Duct tape as an emergency bandage to stop bleeding: good idea or terrible idea?
Hey there! First, let’s do some quick differentiation between a dressing and a bandage, and why duct tape may or may not work for either.
First, a dressing is the actual material that’s applied to the wound. So for example, a square of gauze of whatever size (but typically 4”x4”, or a four-by-four in medspeak) that’s applied to a bleeding wound would be the dressing.
A bandage is the material that’s used to hold that dressing in place. This will often take the form of roller gauze or some form of adhesive, such as tape – a common technique for stopping bleeding from a needlestick, for example, is to fold up a small square of gauze and use that as the dressing, then hold it in place with a piece of tape (which would technically make it a bandage).
However, “bandage” in common parlance can mean either of these things, and it’s not exactly a culturally significant distinction. You may want to talk about your characters “dressing and bandaging the wound”, or “dressed the wound with a piece of cloth.”
Some things are a dressing/bandage combination; specifically, Band-Aid™ and non-brand-name “adhesive medical strips” work with a small dressing in the center and an adhesive bandage around it, so that the dressing stays in place.
That being said, oftentimes in TV, bandages are applied without dressings underneath them. It’s far from ideal, because what you want is a dressing to absorb blood and allow clots to form (which will eventually stop the bleeding), and a separate bandage to hold that dressing in place.
Now then. Duct tape as a dressing has some significant drawbacks. (We’ll get to duct tape as a bandage) later on.
First, as a dressing, duct tape isn’t a great solution. It’s not sterile, which means it could actively put bacteria into the wound. For another, it’s an adhesive, which means when the duct tape is removed it’s liable to take whatever clot has managed to form with it, and pull on the edges of the wound, which will increase bleeding.
Moreover, like many many many tapes, blood will reduce the stickiness of the duct tape, which means that it will have significant problems adhering and, as bleeding occurs underneath it, it will cease to stick (and allow the wound to bleed freely).
Now, as a bandage, to hold some other kind of dressing in place, duct tape isn’t a terrible choice in an emergency. It will still pull when removed—your character may get a free waxing wherever it was applied – but it should hold the dressing itself in place relatively well, assuming that the surface the duct tape is sticking too isn’t too overly slick with blood.
So this is bad:
But this might not be so terrible:
(courtesy WhiteTrashRepairs.com …. because of course it is.)
One thing your characters will also need to be sure of is that the duct tape isn’t applied so tightly to the skin that it reduces blood flow in an extremity, as evidenced by swelling, numbness, pain in the distal extremity, or even bluing of the skin further down the extremity.
I hope this was helpful for your story!