How To Use A Hydrocolloid Dressing… Properly!
Do not use hydrocolloid blister dressings on blisters with an intact or torn roof! If you put a hydrocolloid dressing on a blister with an intact or torn roof, it may rip the skin of the blister roof off upon removal. As a result, you’ll have made your blister worse, instead of better.
Hydrocolloid dressings should only be used on deroofed blisters. That is, blisters where the roof has been removed, leaving a red raw sore. Something like these (below).
Deroofed heel blisters, like these for instance (above), are the kind of wounds that needs a sterile hydrocolloid dressing to heal quickly. Firstly, as the raw blister base heals, it weeps. This weepiness is called exudate and it combines with the dressing to provide the best environment for healing. In other words, hydrocolloids accelerate healing. Secondly, this prevents the dressing from sticking to the raw wound. Therefore, it won’t disrupt valuable healing tissue as it is removed.
Want to learn more about where hydrocolloids fit into the recommended blister treatment sequence? Read our how to get rid of foot blisters article.
[Video] Common hydrocolloid dressing mistakes
Four popular hydrocolloid blister dressing brands
- BlisterPod Hydrocolloid Blister Plasters 10 PackAUD $17.95 – AUD $26.40
How to use hydrocolloid dressings successfully on blisters
Hydrocolloid dressings suffer a poor reputation in blister management in the running and hiking communities, as highlighted below for instance:
My team have dealt with hundreds of cases of Compeed that has almost morphed into “one” with the skin. It’s really difficult to see where the Compeed finishes and where the skin begins. We actually recommend against it for long events for that reason. And if we see it in use, we speak up and discourage it.
Personally, my worst blister treatment experiences of all time have been removing this partially metamorphosed Compeed from badly blistered feet.
The open skin under the dressing stinks and the skin goes all wrinkly.
I completely understand these concerns. I’ve witnessed them myself, many times. Here’s an example (below).
This was from the 2015 ANZAC Ultramarathon in Canberra. This runner had applied Compeed when he saw a blister forming. The skin of the blister roof was intact at the time. Later, as he removed his sock, he realised the Compeed had melded with the sock and he couldn’t get the two apart. He also couldn’t peel the Compeed from his blister. So as he took his sock off, the Compeed ripped the blister roof off. It was nasty!
If you’ve had a bad outcome when you’ve treated your blister with Compeed or any other hydrocolloid, there are three potential reasons why. It’s easy to avoid each of them.
Avoid these 3 mistakes using hydrocolloid blister dressings
1) Hydrocolloid blister dressings are not for blister prevention
There is an expectation that the hydrocolloid dressing alone will prevent a blister from developing and/or prevent it from getting worse. In fact, this expectation is wrong. Don’t use hydrocolloids for blister prevention – they are blister treatments.
2) Only use hydrocolloids for healing deroofed blisters
Hydrocolloid dressings have an adhesive which makes them stick. For this reason, do not put them on a blister with its roof intact, or with its roof torn. This wound care strategy will only tear the skin of the roof off when you come to remove the dressing. Hydrocolloids need a weepy wound base to work their magic – they absorb the exudate and this does two good things:
- Firstly, it prevents the dressing from sticking to that part of the skin
- Secondly, it partially dissolves to provide a gel that promotes healing
In my university days (some 25 years ago now) I was on the grinder doing some heavy orthotic modifications when my hand slipped and the grinder took a nasty gouge from my knuckle. I grabbed some Duoderm from the student clinic and used it as directed until it was healed. We used Duoderm at uni for acute and chronic ulcer management). Within a week or so, the deep gouge had filled in and there was a nice pink area of healed skin in it’s place.
Not only that, the skin remained flexible enough so as not to limit flexion of my finger during and after healing – something that wouldn’t have happened if I’d allowed the wound to dry out and scab over. It was remarkable. I still have a scar but it is quite underwhelming considering the size of the initial injury. If you don’t believe me, the next time you have a weepy wound, get a hydrocolloid dressings and try it.
3) Don’t expect hydrocolloid dressings to stay on, on their own
Although hydrocolloids have an adhesive to make them stick to the skin, I don’t expect it to work on feet – not well enough. On your arm, fine. On my finger, fine. But on your feet, not fine. Think about the in-shoe environment – it’s sweaty in there. In other words, that’s a constant threat to good adhesion. Because all it takes is for one edge of the dressing to roll-back a little and be exposed to the sock (annoyingly, it will stick like glue to the sock – see photo above).
I recommend Fixomull or a similar fixation tape around the circumference of a hydrocolloid dressing. Leave the majority of the dressing area visible – we need to visualise the degree of weepiness to determine when to change the dressing. This is good wound care practice. Plus, hydrocolloids allow wound gasses to evaporate through the dressing (whilst being waterproof from the outside).
- Fixomull Stretch TapeAUD $25.25
How long to leave a hydrocolloid blister dressing on for?
Good question! Hydrocolloids can be left on for a few days, or even a week. It all depends on how weepy the wound is. It can take a bit of practice to get this right.
- If your deroofed blister is very weepy, don’t use a hydrocolloid straight away. If you do, and you leave it on for a week, the surrounding skin will become macerated (water-logged, white, rubbery). Rather than changing your hydrocolloid twice a day, instead, use an island dressing at the start. Change it frequently until the weepiness abates. Then start with your hydrocolloid.
- Conversely, if your deroofed blister is on its way to healing already, if it’s dry or got a scab over it, a hydrocolloid is not the best choice. Use an island dressing simply for protection.
- Just like the Goldilocks fairy tale, there’s a “just right” scenario for hydrocolloids. That is, a deroofed blister with a moderate amount of weepiness. In this situation, leave your hydrocolloid on for a day at least. You’ll know when to change it – the weepy gel-like substance under the dressing will track toward the edge of the dressing. When it gets to the edge of the dressing, change it.
Of course, if your blister base does not seem to be healing, you suspect it is infected, you’re just not sure how to care for your blister or you have a health condition, seek medical advice from your doctor.