Wet-to-dry dressing changes
Dressing changes; Wound care - dressing change
Your health care provider has covered your wound with a wet-to-dry dressing. With this type of dressing, a wet (or moist) gauze dressing is put on your wound and allowed to dry. Wound drainage and dead tissue can be removed when you take off the old dressing.
Follow any instructions you are given on how to change the dressing. Use this sheet as a reminder.
What to Expect at Home
Your provider 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 OK.
- 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, 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.
- 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 redness
- More pain
- It is larger or deeper
- It looks dried out or dark
- The drainage is increasing
- The drainage has a bad smell
Also call your doctor if:
- Your temperature is 100.5°F (38°C), or higher, 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
Surgical wound care - open
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Heart bypass surgery - discharge
Intestinal or bowel obstruction - discharge
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Open spleen removal in adults - discharge
Chilcott M. Wound dressing. In: Fowler GC, ed. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 33.
Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M. Wound care and dressings. In: Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M, eds. Clinical Nursing Skills: Basic to Advanced Skills. 9th ed. New York, NY: Pearson; 2016:chap 25.
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Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery Practice Specializing in Breast Cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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