Hydrogel Wound Dressings: Formulation, Configuration, and Application

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By Kathi Thimsen RN, MSN, WOCN

Hydrogel dressings were one of the first wound care products to change the practice of drying out wounds using caustic agents. Hydrogels drove home the advanced theory of Dr. George D. Winter, referred to as “moist wound healing.” Winter was the scientist that identified and validated the theory that by providing a moist wound environment, the outcomes for patients were those of faster healing and stronger regenerated wounds tissue, with less scarring and pain.

Hydrogel wound dressings are formulated with ingredients that include humectants and water. A primary component of hydrogels is glycerin. Glycerin is a humectant that attracts, holds, and binds water to itself, or in the case of a hydrogel dressing, into the product.

Glycerin may be derived from a plant or an animal source. There is no research that reports a difference in performance or safety based on the source of retrieval. Glycerin is also used in many food and drug products.

Hydrogel wound dressings come in several configurations: amorphous (shapeless, fluid), sheets, and impregnated formats (e.g. gauze, rope, non-woven sponge). The concentration (percentage) of glycerin varies from product to product. Products with higher concentrations of glycerin will create a moist environment that has a longer duration in the wound. Higher concentrations will also provide for absorption of larger amounts of exudate. There is also bacteriostatic activity with larger concentrations of glycerin.

Wound dressing formulations are considered proprietary and intellectual property. Because of this, the actual concentration of an ingredient may not be readily available. If a clinician wants to examine a wound dressing product and determine glycerin properties without actual percentages, performing table-top testing will be necessary. It is advised to use a saline-based solution when testing products outside of an actual wound. This will provide a “close to real” testing environment.

As you become familiar with a variety of hydrogel dressings, you will be able to determine higher glycerin formulations. Higher glycerin content products will remain viable, and not deteriorate or dry out when exposed to air or diluted with saline.

Care Tip: Hydrogel dressings are easy for patients and caregivers to apply, rinse, and cover. Dressing changes are decreased due to the durability of the glycerin content.

Check back for the next blog on sticky situations!

About The Author
Kathi Thimsen RN, MSN, WOCN is a leader in the field of wound and ostomy care, publishing articles, presenting at conferences nationally and internationally, and serving on numerous committees and education boards including the International Association of Forensic Nurses Ethic Committee.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.

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