Early versus delayed dressing removal for people with surgical wounds

Most surgical procedures involve a cut in the skin that allows the surgeon to gain access to the deeper tissues or organs. Most surgical wounds are closed fully at the end of the procedure.The surgeon covers the closed surgical wound with either a dressing or adhesive tape.The dressing can act as a physical barrier to protect the wound until the continuity of the skin in restored (within about 48 hours). It can also absorb exudate from the wound, keeping it dry and clean, and preventing bacterial contamination from the external environment. Some studies have found that the moist environment created by some dressings accelerates wound healing, although others believe that it is a disadvantage, as excessive exudate can cause softening and deterioration of the wound and surrounding healthy tissue.

We reviewed the medical literature up to July 2013 and identified four randomised controlled trials that investigated early (permanent removal of dressings within 48 hours of surgery) versus delayed removal of dressings (permanent removal of dressings after 48 hours of surgery with interim changes of dressing allowed) in people with surgical wounds. The levels of bias across the studies were mostly high or unclear, i.e. flaws in the conduct of these trials could have resulted in the production of incorrect results. A total of 280 people undergoing planned surgery were included in this review. One-hundred and forty people had their dressings removed within 48 hours following surgery and 140 people had their wounds dressed beyond 48 hours. The choice of whether the dressing was removed early (within 48 hours) or retained for more 48 hours was made randomly by a method similar to the toss of a coin. No significant differences were reported between the two groups in terms of superficial surgical site infection (infection of the wound), superficial wound dehiscence (partial disruption of the wound that results in it reopening at the skin surface) or the number of people experiencing serious adverse events. There were no deep wound infections or complete wound dehiscence (complete disruption of wound healing, when the wound reopens completely) in the studies that reported these complications. However, the studies were not large enough to identify small differences in complication rates. None of the studies reported quality of life. Participants in the group that had early removal of dressings had significantly shorter hospital stays and incurred significantly lower treatment costs than those in the delayed removal of dressings group, but these results were based on very low quality evidence from one small randomised controlled trial. We recommend further randomised controlled trials are performed to investigate whether dressing of wounds beyond 48 hours after surgery is necessary, since the current evidence is based on very low quality evidence from three small randomised controlled trials.

Authors' conclusions: 

The early removal of dressings from clean or clean contaminated surgical wounds appears to have no detrimental effect on outcomes. However, it should be noted that the point estimate supporting this statement is based on very low quality evidence from three small randomised controlled trials, and the confidence intervals around this estimate were wide. Early dressing removal may result in a significantly shorter hospital stay, and significantly reduced costs, than covering the surgical wound with wound dressings beyond the first 48 hours after surgery, according to very low quality evidence from one small randomised controlled trial. Further randomised controlled trials of low risk of bias are necessary to investigate whether dressings are necessary after 48 hours in different types of surgery and levels of contamination and investigate whether antibiotic therapy influences the outcome

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Background: 

Most surgical procedures involve a cut in the skin that allows the surgeon to gain access to the deeper tissues or organs. Most surgical wounds are closed fully at the end of the procedure (primary closure). The surgeon covers the closed surgical wound with either a dressing or adhesive tape. The dressing can act as a physical barrier to protect the wound until the continuity of the skin is restored (within about 48 hours) and to absorb exudate from the wound, keeping it dry and clean, and preventing bacterial contamination from the external environment. Some studies have found that the moist environment created by some dressings accelerates wound healing, although others believe that the moist environment can be a disadvantage, as excessive exudate can cause maceration (softening and deterioration) of the wound and the surrounding healthy tissue. The utility of dressing surgical wounds beyond 48 hours of surgery is, therefore, controversial.

Objectives: 

To evaluate the benefits and risks of removing a dressing covering a closed surgical incision site within 48 hours permanently (early dressing removal) or beyond 48 hours of surgery permanently with interim dressing changes allowed (delayed dressing removal), on surgical site infection.

Search strategy: 

In March 2015 we searched the following electronic databases: The Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register; The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library); Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) (The Cochrane Library); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid EMBASE; and EBSCO CINAHL. We also searched the references of included trials to identify further potentially-relevant trials.

Selection criteria: 

Two review authors independently identified studies for inclusion. We included all randomised clinical trials (RCTs) conducted with people of any age and sex, undergoing a surgical procedure, who had their wound closed and a dressing applied. We included only trials that compared early versus delayed dressing removal. We excluded trials that included people with contaminated or dirty wounds. We also excluded quasi-randomised studies, and other study designs.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently extracted data on the characteristics of the trial participants, risk of bias in the trials and outcomes for each trial. We calculated risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) for binary outcomes and mean difference (MD) with 95% CI for continuous outcomes. We used RevMan 5 software to perform these calculations.

Main results: 

Four trials were identified for inclusion in this review. All the trials were at high risk of bias. Three trials provided information for this review. Overall, this review included 280 people undergoing planned surgery. Participants were randomised to early dressing removal (removal of the wound dressing within the 48 hours following surgery) (n = 140) or delayed dressing removal (continued dressing of the wound beyond 48 hours) (n = 140) in the three trials. There were no statistically significant differences between the early dressing removal group and delayed dressing removal group in the proportion of people who developed superficial surgical site infection within 30 days (RR 0.64; 95% CI 0.32 to 1.28), superficial wound dehiscence within 30 days (RR 2.00; 95% CI 0.19 to 21.16) or serious adverse events within 30 days (RR 0.83; 95% CI 0.28 to 2.51). No deep wound infection or deep wound dehiscence occurred in any of the participants in the trials that reported this outcome. None of the trials reported quality of life. The hospital stay was significantly shorter (MD -2.00 days; 95% CI -2.82 to -1.18) and the total cost of treatment significantly less (MD EUR -36.00; 95% CI -59.81 to -12.19) in the early dressing removal group than in the delayed dressing removal group in the only trial that reported these outcomes.

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