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How to Properly Dress a Wound

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Date published
Date last updated
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5 Minutes

Understanding how to properly dress a wound is an invaluable life skill to know, while being one of the most basic first aid techniques there is. Whether you need to treat a minor cut that has occurred in the home, or a larger laceration that requires a dressing until medical help has arrived, knowing how to dress a wound will stand you in good stead should an emergency ever occur.

Though it’s vital that you follow the steps carefully to avoid the risk of infection or further injury, it is in fact a simple process to learn. Here’s how to properly dress a wound, no matter the size or placement.

Step 1 - Quickly Assess The Bleeding

It’s first important to understand the risks associated with coming into close contact with somebody else’s blood, such as the danger of transmitting diseases. If it’s possible for you to do so, ensure you protect yourself as much as you can by following precautions and wearing personal protective equipment, for example, gloves or a mask.

It’s then important to quickly assess the amount of bleeding that has occurred – if the wound is bleeding heavily, you may need to call the emergency services. If there is bright red or squirting blood, a deep puncture wound on the arm above the elbow or on the leg above the knee, or if the puncture wound if on the head, chest, neck, abdomen, pelvis or back and is more than an inch deep, the emergency services need to be called.

Step 2 - Get The Right Supplies For Dressing A Wound

The following items should be obtained before you begin dressing the wound, and they should be placed on a sterile surface to ensure they’re kept clean and hygienic:

  • A pair of sterile gloves
  • Gauze pads or rolled gauze
  • Saline water
  • A pair of scissors
  • A non-stick pad
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Tape or wrap*

*If this is your first time changing an existing wound dressing, try to take note of how and where the pad is secured so that you can copy the position with the new one. If you’re able to, it’s always a good idea to cut the tape or wrap before beginning the dressing, so that it’s easier for you to apply it.

Step 3 - Wash and Dry Your Hands

Make sure your hands are thoroughly cleaned and dried, before putting on a brand-new pair of sterile gloves.

Step 4- Remove the Old Dressing If Previously Dressed

If this is a dressing change, then carefully loosen the old dressing before removing it. Here you can use a little of the saline water to help to loosen any sticky sections, though take care to not remove any surgical tape used to close the wound if present.

Step 5 - Clean The Wound

If there are particles such as broken glass or gravel in the wound, use tweezers to carefully remove these. Wet the gauze pad with saline water (or running water) and carefully clean the wound – being sure to delicately clean any visible blood or fluids from the area as you do this. Wash the skin around the injury too, to remove any dirt. This step is likely to sting the raw tissue surrounding the wound yet is necessary to ensure it doesn’t become infected in the future.

Step 6 - Allow The Wound To Dry

Make sure the wound dries once cleaned, as putting a dressing on a wet wound could result in it falling off or apart very soon.

Step 7 - Apply The New Dressing

You first need to apply the antibiotic ointment to the wound, before applying a new non-stick pad over the top. Here is where you may need to add extra gauze for cushioning if necessary.

Step 8 - Secure The New Dressing

Finally, using tape or wrap, you next need to secure the dressing – depending on where the wound is located on the body will depend on which of the two you use. If you’re using a wrap, wrap it around the dressing so that it’s comfortable yet firm, however if you’re using tape, apply it to two or more edges of the pad to ensure the dressing is secure and won’t come undone.

Stay Vigilant

Most dressings require changing at least twice a day, or when blood has soaked through the bandage and is visible. Remember to seek medical attention for a deep wound if:

  • It is inflamed (red and swollen)
  • If it is tender or numb
  • If you can see layers of tissues along the sides of the laceration
  • If it’s draining pus (yellow and thick liquid)
  • If it’s a laceration with jagged edges or edges that won’t close.

You’ll also need to obtain medical help if it has been five or more years since the victim of the wound last had a tetanus shot.