Alginate Wound Dressings

Alginate dressings are made from natural polysaccharide fibers that are derived from processed seaweed. These non-woven, non-adhesive dressings are highly absorbent, soft, and conformable. They are easy to pack, tuck or apply over wounds of irregular shapes. Because they have no adhesive properties, secondary dressings must be used to secure alginate dressings. Alginate dressings are available in many forms and shapes to suit a wide variety of wounds.

 Alginate Dressing Gel Formation

Alginate dressings achieve their clinical benefit through a unique mode of action which allows them to absorb large amounts of exudate; up to 20 times their own weight. When the dressing comes into contact with wound exudate, the alginate fibers form a soft, moist gel-like substance, through a process of ion exchange. The gel formed in this way not only helps to provide a moist wound healing environment, but also blocks lateral wicking of exudate, helping to reduce wound maceration. As the gel does not adhere to the wound site, trauma and pain during everyday wear and dressing change is limited. The gel is easily removed from the wound site by irrigation with saline solution.

When should an alginate dressing be used?

Because they have such high absorbency, alginate dressings are ideal for moderately- and highly-draining partial and full thickness wounds. In particular, alginate dressings are indicated for venous insufficiency ulcers, pressure ulcers, diabetic ulcers, surgical wounds, donor sites, and first and second degree burns. In addition, they are the ideal primary dressing for infected wounds, since infected wounds tend to have significant levels of drainage. Alginates can be used on both granular and slough-covered wounds.

The high absorbency of alginates, however, makes them unsuitable for a number of wounds including dry or minimally-draining wounds. In particular full-thickness, third-degree burns should not be treated with an alginate dressing. What is more, alginates should not be used on wounds with exposed tendon, joint capsule, or bone due to the risk of desiccating tissue with high collagen content. Some people have a known sensitivity to alginates, and alginate dressings should naturally be avoided in these patients.

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  1. I have been suffering from A foreign body giant cell reaction to alginate dressing being left for six days in a wound in my foot. I have had to consult another physician who eventually agreed to open up my foot under general anaesthetic and found severe scar tissue from remains of the alginate seeping into surrounding tissue. The doctor removed as much as he could but was restricted by having to avoid operating too near the base iof my foot. Another three months on and I am still experiencing pain and burning sensations which seem to be extending furthe up my foot into my ankle and calf. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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