Foam dressings are often preferred by clinicians for their ease of use.

There are a wide variety of wound care products to choose from, each aimed at helping the body heal from different types of wounds. Selecting the correct product is important for creating an environment ideal for proper wound healing. Two of the most common types of dressings utilized by physicians today are foam and hydrocolloid, and though they have many of the same characteristics, it’s important to understand the distinctions between the two.

Foam dressings

Foams dressings are wound healing products typically made from hydrophilic polyurethane foam and are highly absorbent. Different brands and varieties often have different absorption rates, and some may come with adhesive tape surrounding the foam padding. Since they’re so absorbent, there’s generally less need to change the dressing frequently – patients typically only need to change the foam dressing every two to four days. They are often used for highly leaky wounds (typically during the inflammatory wound healing stage when drainage is at its peak). However, if there’s too little drainage, the foam dressing can cause a drying effect that can be bad for the healing process.

Hydrocolloid dressings

Hydrocolloids have a more complex makeup. The dressing contains gel-forming agents, like sodium carboxymethyl cellulose and gelatin, and take on the form of a self-adhesive, absorbent wafer that’s waterproof. Since its main goal is moisture maintenance, it’s typically prescribed for wounds that have little leakage. However, when used on wounds with heavy drainage, the hydrocolloid dressing can cause fluids to pool in the ulcer, soften the skin and hinder the healing process. These dressings need to be changed, on average, once every three to five days.

Which dressing is right for you?

Many clinicians would agree that both foam and hydrocolloid meet many of the features of an ideal dressing. After all, these two types of wound dressings both encapsulate the characteristics of modern and effective products that embrace the principles of moist wound healing. They both form a bacterial barrier, encouraged hydration, maintain an ideal temperature, require minimal replacement or other disturbances and are easy to remove from the affected site without further harming the wound. But when selecting the right wound care products, clinicians must look beyond these basic properties and consider the proven results.

In 2010, researchers from Mölnlycke Health Care conducted a review of peer studies that looked into the effects of foam and hydrocolloid dressings. The study found that there is a significant difference between the two in terms of the rate of wound healing. As the researchers concluded, the healing method is likely not the cause of foam’s faster healing rate. Rather, foam dressings are easier for patients to use and manage compared to hydrocolloids, and this may enhance patient compliance and at-home care. It’s important to seek the advice of a licensed clinician before beginning the treatment process, but those unfamiliar with the process of hydrocolloid treatment at home may want to request the use of foam dressings.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients, delivering to both homes and long-term care facilities.