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Wet to dry dressing changes

Alternate Names

Dressing changes; Wound care - dressing change

What to Expect at Home

Your doctor or nurse may ask you to change your dressing at home. By placing a wet (or moist) gauze dressing on your wound and allowing it to dry, wound drainage and dead tissue can be removed when you take off the old dressing.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you how often you should change your dressing at home.

As the wound heals, you should not need as much gauze (or packing gauze).

Removing the Old Dressing

Follow these steps to remove your dressing:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after each dressing change.
  • Put on a pair of non-sterile gloves.
  • Carefully remove the tape.
  • Remove the old dressing. If it is sticking to your skin, wet it with warm water to loosen it.
  • Remove the gauze pads or packing tape from inside your wound.
  • Put the old dressing, packing material, and your gloves in a plastic bag. Set the bag aside.

Cleaning Your Wound

Follow these steps to clean your wound:

  • Put on a new pair of non-sterile gloves.
  • Use a clean, soft washcloth to gently clean your wound with warm water and soap. Your wound should not bleed much when you are cleaning it. A small amount of blood is okay.
  • Rinse your wound with water. Gently pat it dry with a clean towel. Do not rub it dry. In some cases, you can even rinse the wound while showering.
  • Check the wound for increased redness or swelling or a bad odor.
  • Pay attention to the color and amount of drainage from your wound. Look for drainage that has become darker or thicker.
  • After cleaning your wound, remove your gloves and put them in the plastic bag with the old dressing and gloves.
  • Wash your hands again.

Changing Your Dressing

Follow these steps to put a new dressing on:

  • Put on a new pair of non-sterile gloves.
  • Pour saline into a clean bowl. Place gauze pads and any packing tape you will use in the bowl.
  • Squeeze the saline from the gauze pads or packing tape until it is no longer dripping.
  • Place the gauze pads or packing tape in your wound. Carefully fill in the wound and any spaces under the skin. Do not let the wet gauze or packing tape touch any healed skin.
  • Cover the wet gauze or packing tape with a large dry dressing pad. Use tape or rolled gauze to hold this dressing in place.
  • Put all used supplies in the plastic bag. Close it securely, then put it in a second plastic bag, and close that bag securely. Put it in the trash.
  • Wash your hands again when you are finished.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if you have any of these changes around your wound:

  • Worsening or more redness.
  • More pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Bleeding.
  • The wound is larger or deeper.
  • The wound looks dried out or dark.
  • The drainage is increasing.
  • The drainage has a bad smell.

Also call your doctor if:

  • Your temperature is above 100.4°F (38°C) for more than 4 hours.
  • Drainage is coming from or around the wound.
  • Drainage is not decreasing after 3 to 5 days.
  • Drainage is increasing.
  • Drainage becomes thick, tan, yellow, or smells bad.

References

Fonder MA, Lazarus GS, Cowan DA, Aronson-Cook B, Kohli AR, Mamelak AJ. Treating the chronic wound: A practical approach to the care of nonhealing wounds and wound care dressings. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 Feb;58(2):185-206.

Updated: 2/7/2013

Matthew M. Cooper, MD, FACS, Medical Director, Cardiovascular Surgery, HealthEast Care System, St. Paul, MN. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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