Dressings, Bandages, and Splints
Dressings, bandages, and splints are key components of any first aid kit. The experienced first aid responder should be able to work wonders with these simple lifesaving materials.
Many soft-tissue and muscle/bone/joint injuries need these items to help control bleeding, to lessen pain, to prevent infection, and/or to provide support to an injured area.
First aid training involves the expert use of various dressings, bandages, and splints.
A dressing is a sterile covering for a wound, designed to absorb fluids, slow bleeding, lessen pain, prevent infection, and promote healing. Typically, a dressing for first aid care consists of a square pad of loosely woven cotton gauze. This type of material is porous enough to allow two-way airflow while absorbing exudate and preventing dirt and other contaminants from reaching the wound bed. Gauze can also be impregnated with medication or antiseptic chemicals.
- Sterile gauze pads come individually packaged in squares of various sizes (e.g., 2×2-inch, 3×3-inch, 4×4-inch, 10×30-inch, 20×40-cm, etc.). Larger gauze pads are sometimes called trauma dressings or multi-trauma dressings. Since these dressings are sterile, they can be used in first aid emergencies to cover open wounds as you apply direct pressure or a pressure bandage.
- Probably the most common first aid dressing is the little square in the center of a BAND-AID® or other adhesive bandage (e.g., Curad®, etc.)
- Moist-wound dressings (including alginates, foams, hydrocolloids, hydrogels, and transparent films) are sterile coverings designed to keep used to promote healing for burns and chronic wounds like leg and foot ulcers. As such, they are more common in hospital and hospice treatment and less common as initial first aid care. However, moist trauma dressings are recommended as the initial covering for eviscerations encountered in the field.
- Occlusive dressings are airtight, nonabsorbent seals made of plastic, latex, or gauze immersed in petroleum jelly, used to seal open chest wounds, to cover the moist gauze layer of an evisceration, or to maximize the potency and absorption of an applied topical medication sealed under the dressing.
A bandage is a strip of material used to protect, immobilize, compress, or support a wound or injured body part. When a dressing covers a wound, a bandage can hold the dressing in place. (The adhesive parts surrounding the small square dressing of a BAND-AID is the bandage. For this reason, BAND-AIDs, Curad strips, etc. are considered adhesive bandages.)
A list of different types of bandages used in first aid emergencies follows:
Adhesive bandage (e.g., BAND-AID, Curad, Elastoplast, Nexcare, etc.). Commonly referred to as “band-aids” in the U.S. and as “plasters” in the U.K., adhesive bandages are ideal for minor wounds and home/first aid care. They are self-contained, individually wrapped (sterile), easily applied dressing-bandage combinations, available in different sizes and shapes for various parts of the body.
Compression or elastic bandage (e.g., ACE™ bandage, etc.). Elastic bandages are designed to provide support for injured body parts with customized compression where needed. They are comfortable to wear for extended periods, easy to use, and adjustable for a custom fit.
Cravat bandage. A narrow strip of muslin made by bringing the point of a triangular bandage (see Triangular Bandage below) to the middle of its base and then folding lengthwise to the desired width. The cravat bandage can be used to support or bandage just about any part of the body.
Roller gauze bandage. A rolled-up strip of loosely woven cotton gauze used to wrap and bind the body. The material remains tightly rolled for compact storage until applied. It rolls onto the body with ease, clinging to itself and stretching to snugly conform to any part of the body.
Triangular bandage. A triangle-shaped covering made of muslin cloth used to make arm slings, tourniquets, compression bandages, cravats, etc.
A splint is a rigid, bulky, or flexible device applied with bandaging to protect, support, and immobilize an injured body part. During patient care and transport, splints help prevent further injury by restricting the movement of broken bones and damaged joints.
Splinting is part of the general care for muscle, bone, and joint injuries, indicated with the acronym RICE (Rest, Immobilization, Cold, Elevation).
- When bones are broken, the objective of splinting is to immobilize the joints above and below the injury.
- When a joint is injured, the objective of splinting is to immobilize the bones above and below the injury.
Types of splints include:
Air splint. A type of soft splint consisting of a vinyl cuff that can be slipped onto an injured arm or leg and then inflated to support and immobilize the part.
Anatomic splint. A splint made by securing the injured body part to another body part (e.g., an injured finger taped to an uninjured finger, etc.). The leg-to-leg anatomic splint, while frequently cited and practiced in first aid classes, remains one of the most impractical, ineffective techniques in actual practice. (It binds an entire uninjured limb but does not immobilize ankle, knee, or hip joints, etc.)
Rigid splint. A splint created by attaching a rigid device or object to a injured limb. This type of splint is frequently improvised using tree branches, cardboard, folded newspaper, etc. For more information, go to:
Sling and binder. This is a special type of anatomic splint (sometimes considered a soft splint) created using a hanging bandage suspended from the neck to support an injured arm against the chest and another bandage tied across the sling and around the torso to keep the arm in place.
Soft splint. A splint created by surrounding the injured body part with bulky material, tied in place with bandages.
Traction splint. A medical device that immobilizes the bones of an upper leg injury while applying constant pulling action along the length of the limb to stabilize it and reduce muscle spasms.
- Vacuum splint. A device like a small vacuum mattress filled with polystyrene balls that creates a temporary splint when placed around the injured body part and air is removed so that the splint conforms to the body part. Vacuum splints are usually applied by EMS personnel.