Wet Dressings

Soaks, wet dressings, and compresses are useful for their sooth­ing, cooling, and cleansing effects. Open wet dressings are helpful against acute inflammation with oozing, weeping, and crusting; these dressings cool and dry the skin through evaporation. In addition, soaks and wet dressings cleanse the skin of accumulated crusts, debris and fluid. Drainage of infected areas is promoted.

Some solutions help control itching. Cold or hot soaks have temporary anti-itch effects, though the latter can irritate the skin. Compresses with crushed ice wrapped in a towel or a cloth dipped in a mixture of ice and water may be used, but this is not practical for large areas.

Other advantages of some soaks are their astringent and anti­septic properties. Astringents slow the escape of fluid through the skin by coagulating protein, thus forming a less-permeable barrier to fluid. Skin that is oozing and weeping benefits from the astringency of soaks. Not only is crust, debris and serum on the surface removed, but also the drying effects of the soaks dimin­ish further oozing. If overused, soaks can produce excessive dryness with chapping and cracking, however.

Soaks vary in their antiseptic properties. Of those listed in the table, saline, baking soda, epsom salt, starch and oatmeal have negligible antiseptic properties. Burow's solution is mildly anti­septic. Aluwets soaks have greater antibacterial effects than Burow's solution. Potassium permanganate is a potent oxidizing agent that has considerable antiseptic properties.

Soaks and compresses can be utilized in a number of ways. If a digit, hand or foot is to be soaked, the simplest method is to immerse the member in a bowl or pan.

Large areas of the body, or the groin, buttocks or anogenital regions, are best soaked in a bathtub. Tub baths do not allow as much evaporation, and thus are less cooling and drying. Baths should be no longer than thirty minutes.

Closed wet dressings are less drying and retain heat. They are used for infections such as cellulitis, abscesses, and boils. These dressings are applied in the same way as ordinary wet dressings, but the solution should be warm. The dressing may be covered with an impermeable material, such as saran wrap or plastic.

Wet dressings are applied as followed:

1. Cloth, such as gauze, linen, or a towel is used. Sterility is not necessary.

2. The dressing is rinsed in the tepid solution. When applied to the skin, it should be sopping wet, but not dripping.

3. The dressing is loosely applied in layers. Utilizing several layers, perhaps covering with a towel or cloth will prevent overly rapid drying and cooling.

4. The dressing should be removed periodically and rinsed in the solution.

5. Soaks can be applied from ten to sixty minutes, one to four times daily, as needed.

6. When the dressing is removed, a lotion, powder, liniment or paste can be applied. Greasy ointments should be avoided; they will not allow fluid to escape from the skin surface.

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