What is wound exudate?

As part of the healing process, the body produces fluid to help repair the wound. This fluid is called exudate. For a wound to heal properly, it needs to be at the right moisture level. Too much fluid can hinder healing and harbor bacteria that can lead to infection. On the other hand, too little moisture, and the body will have difficulty repairing the wounded area.

Dressings are an important part of reaching the optimal moist environment needed for healing. Different dressings are often used in combination to best treat the wound. For example, for a wound with heavy drainage (exudate), an alginate dressing may be used on the affected area and is covered by a specialty absorptive pad: both are designed to remove excess fluid. The entire dressing may then be held in place with tape. As the wound heals, these dressings may be adjusted based on the wound’s changing condition. Keep in mind, wound fluid levels are just one factor in determining what dressing to use.

Here are some dressing options used when managing exudate:


Hydrogel dressings, like gauze and sheets, have a very high water content to help rehydrate dry wounds and to provide a healthy, moist healing environment. These dressings aid in the body’s efforts to remove dead tissue and keep clean wounds moist. Sheet forms are used with shallow wounds or as a cover or secondary dressing. For burns, the dressing has a cooling effect.

Alginate dressings

Used for wounds with heavy fluid drainage. Some alginates include calcium, which mixes with salts in the wound to form a gel that can absorb large amounts of drainage and stop small amounts of bleeding (it should not be used for heavily bleeding wounds). The dressing helps maintain a healthy, moist environment; it is also designed to remove easily from the wound.

Collagen dressings

The collagen in these dressings serves as a scaffold for the body’s own collagen to grow into and repair the injured area. The body produces substances (MMPs) that help wounds heal naturally. In chronic wounds, too many MMPs are created, which disrupts the healing. Collagen dressings bind excess MMPs and help normal healing resume.

Specialty absorptive pad

These multi-layer dressings are highly absorbent and include both a semi-adherent or non-adherent layer. 


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Wound care 101
What are chronic wounds?