Alginate dressing – A Complete Guide
Wounds and other skin injuries must be taken care of properly and that means choosing the right type of dressing. Alginate dressings have been used for years and still remain poorly understood and widely underused choices for various types of wounds, especially those with large amounts of exudate (a fluid emitted through a wound, and can be clear or pus-like). Alginates are, therefore, absorbent wound dressings that usually contain calcium and sodium fibers derived from carbohydrate sources, usually seaweed.
Alginate dressings have proven to be successful in cleansing a variety of secretions and their high absorbing power is due to the hydrophilic gel formation which, subsequently, minimizes the bacterial contamination of the wound. The alginate fibers are easily biodegradable and offer a moist environment that speeds up the healing process and helps with the formation of granulation tissue.
They are usually flat and can be easily placed over ulcers and rope dressings, and are especially helpful in the healing of pressure and diabetic foot ulcers, as well as venous ulcers. Additionally, they can be used on full-thickness burns, various surgical wounds, chemosurgery defects, as well as dry wounds upon application of the saline solution.
An alginate dressing can take up to twenty times its own weight and it is able to mold itself to the individual wound shape, which aids in wound drainage absorption. This makes them easy to use on hard to reach areas such as heels and sacral regions.
How do Alginate dressings work?
When placed on a wound, alginate dressings are dry, but once they start absorbing excess fluids they become larger and gel-like. They draw in exudates and help in clearing out the wound, and keeping it moist enough to promote the healing.
Alginates also protect the damaged area from bacteria, thus lowering the risk of infection and promoting new skin growth. They encourage natural wound debridement, a process which removes dead skin and makes the wound heal faster. Additionally, alginates can be used on bleeding wounds as the calcium in these dressings can be of help with the stabilization of the blood flow, thus slowing down the bleeding.
How to use Alginates?
Using alginates is quite easy, and the whole process is pretty straightforward. Firstly, one should use saline solution which cleans the area of the wound and patting it dry before applying the alginate dressing. A secondary dressing should be placed over the alginate to help hold in in place.
This type of dressing should be changed every one to three days or when it becomes full and starts seeping fluids out from the edges. Removing the alginates is also quite simple, as you only need to use saline solution to make the dressing damp before removing it, thus lowering the damage to surrounding skin and eliminating the pain and removal trauma.
When to use Alginates?
Alginate dressings are made for use on draining wounds and should not be utilized on wounds with low drainage as they may dry them out completely, slowing down the healing process or even stopping it altogether. In some cases, alginates have proven to be useful on sloughy wounds, as they provide a moist covering over the slough, and thus preventing it from drying out completely. They are, however, not recommended for use on wounds with hard necrotic tissue, as they require moisture in order to function properly.
Nowadays, cavity wounds are commonly dressed with alginate fiber (a ribbon or rope), instead of the traditional saline soaked gauze. Additionally, alginates have more advantages in comparison with cellulose dressings in the treatment of epithelizing wounds, as they cause minimal to no pain and trauma upon removal.
When talking about skin graft donor sites, the studies have shown that calcium alginate dressings have been more effective than paraffin gauze dressings. Also, alginates, compared to scarlet red dressings used on patients with burns undergoing skin grafting procedures have shown to significantly reduce the pain, however, when it comes to the acceleration of healing, scarlet red and alginates are more or less equal.
Another study shows that calcium alginate reduced the pain in removal from post-operative wounds, and a study conducted several years ago proves that alginates are quite efficient in the treatment of full-thickness pressure ulcers as they help in the reduction of the wound area. They are also quite practical in the packing of deep wounds, and cause less pain upon removal compared to traditional gauze dressings.
There are quite a lot of manufacturers of alginate dressings, and depending on the quality of seaweed and other materials used in the production of the dressing, some can be left on the wound for a longer time. This, of course, does not mean that one should follow the instructions of the manufacturer blindly, as only a qualified specialist can with certainty prescribe the frequency of dressing change.