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Last updated: 10.08.18

First aid: bandages and dressings

**Please note that the information in this article does not qualify you as an official first aider. Virtual College advises calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.**

**This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.**

**Anyone seeking a first aid qualification can check out our First Aid e-learning course here.**

Bandages and dressings: What you need to know

Bandages are an essential part of every first aid kit and can be helpful for many everyday accidents and injuries. However, bandages and dressings are only effective when used properly.

Some bandage types are designed for a specific purpose, for example, triangular bandage slings for supporting broken arms, or roller bandages for dressing wounds. These types of bandages are ineffective when used for other purposes, which could affect recovery.

Therefore, it's vital that people understand the different types of bandages and dressings available, and how they should be used when administering basic first aid.

Types of bandages and dressings

Roller bandages: Appearance and uses

Roller bandages are the type of bandage you're most likely to need if you're treating a cut or scrape. They're usually made from a lightweight and breathable cotton gauze, and are used to hold other dressings against wounds.

However, roller bandages can also be made from crepe, which gives them more elasticity, meaning they can be used to support joints or apply pressure to an open wound to stem the flow of blood. This makes them very useful in emergency situations.

Roller bandages will typically look like tightly rolled white cotton cylinders when you're looking for them in a first aid kit, usually inside a sterile plastic packet.

How to apply a roller bandage

To apply a roller bandage to an open wound, first apply a suitable pad or dressing to the area. Then, hold the rolled-up end of the roller bandage up with one hand, and begin wrapping the loose end around the dressing with the other, starting at the bottom and working your way up.

Add just a few centimetres more of the bandage at time to keep it as tight as possible and ensure the appropriate level of pressure is applied to the wound. Each wrap-around needs to overlap at least one-third of the previous wrap. When you reach the top of the area, wrap the bandage around a few extra times before securing and cutting away any excess.

If you're using a roller bandage to apply pressure to a limb or to support a joint, follow the same method, but get the patient to bend their limb a few times beforehand to keep the blood flowing to the area.

Triangular bandages: Appearance and uses

Triangular bandages are an extremely versatile type of bandage, and are usually made from a single sheet of thick cotton or calico, typically used for making a triangular bandage sling to support soft tissue injuries or immobilise broken bones.

In an emergency, you could also use a triangular bandage to create a makeshift tourniquet, wrapping one around a pad or dressing to apply pressure to a wound if no roller bandages are available.

In your first aid kid, a triangular bandage will be packaged as a square, possibly with accompanying safety pins, which you can use to make a sling.

How to apply a triangular bandage

Use a visual guide such as this to make sure your sling is fashioned correctly. For lower limb injuries, simply use the triangular bandage as if it was a larger roller bandage. But for arm or hand injuries, either an arm sling or an elevation sling will be needed, depending on whether the flow of blood to the affected body part needs restricting.

Tubular bandages: Appearance and uses

Tubular bandages are not as versatile as roller bandages and triangular bandages, but they are useful for providing compression, and immobilising or supporting knee and elbow joints. They can also be used to hold a dressing against a limb.

This type of bandage is essentially an elasticated tube made of thick gauze, with different widths available. In your first aid kit, it will look like a long ring or roll of bandage, and you can cut it to size to fit the required area.

How to use a tubular bandage

To support a joint, simply slide the tubular bandage along the body part you are trying to treat. However, if you want to hold a dressing tightly, put that in place first, asking the patient to hold it until you have slid the tubular bandage up to cover the pad. Take care to ensure you do not displace the dressing or contaminate the wound while doing this.

While this guidance may help in an emergency, it is always important to call 999 immediately; and proper First Aid training via an e-learning platform such as Virtual College’s LMS would help to provide more extensive knowledge for future incidents.

Check out our full range of health and safety courses here.