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Comparison between alcohol swab and cotton ball

You have likely faced needles and syringes for a blood donation, medical test, or injection for administering a drug. However, to prevent infection, safe injection practices are a must. Safe injection techniques include healthcare professionals mandating the use of a new and sterile needle, correct vial, and swabbing the skin via an alcohol pad or a ball of cotton wool.

Doctors, dentists, nurses, hygienists use medical alcohol swabs or cotton-wool balls regularly for absorbency. The medical fraternity emphasizes preparing the injection site by cleaning it with an alcohol pad to disinfect the area. Similarly, sometimes after your blood sample is taken, cotton wool is used to cover the puncture site. Read on to understand when and where the use of cotton and swab is proper.

Introduction to Alcohol-Soaked Pad or Swabs

Alcohol swabs are pads containing 70% isopropanol. These are packaged individually and sealed tightly, typically in aluminum paper bags to prevent dryness. The swabs are available in various sizes, all around the world.

An alcohol pad or swab disinfects your skin before you get an injection to avoid contamination, decrease germs, clean body fluids and prevent bacteria from getting injected. Alcohol is an excellent disinfectant, and therefore these swabs are typical in clinics, blood test kits, first aid boxes, and hospitals. 

A swab with alcohol is generally used to clean patients’ skin before drawing blood or administering a drug. Nowadays, ready-to-use alcohol pads, saturated and pre-moistened with 70% v/v Isopropyl Alcohol, are readily available in the market. 

When and How to Use Them?

Doctors recommend that these swabs immersed in alcohol are fit for one-time-use. Other than being used before injections, alcohol-soaked swabs find many applications. They effectively clean the skin when water and soap are not available. 

Diabetes patients who take insulin injections for controlling their blood sugar levels use the needle once, twice, or sometimes thrice a day. They must disinfect the area by rubbing with a swab before injecting. Experts also suggest that it is vital to wait for the alcohol to dry before using an injection. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), swabbing an injection area with an alcohol-soaked swab should suffice for 30 seconds. However, after that, one must let the area dry for half a minute to ensure that the alcohol isn’t injected in the puncture; it may sting. 

When are Cotton Balls Used?

Cotton balls are most often used after drawing blood. Healthcare professionals ask patients to secure the puncture site with cotton dressing to assist with the blood clotting and prevent further bruising and swelling. 

Plain cotton wool is effective on sensitive skin. They are also useful in applying pressure on deep puncture wounds, bites, and blisters. However, doctors recommend against the use of wet cotton balls bulk stored in multi-use containers. Cotton wool, if not immersed in alcohol, pre-packed, or sealed, is deemed unfit for healthcare application since it is not free of contaminants.

Whether it is a drug injection or a blood test, cotton wool and alcohol-soaked swabs have non-interchangeable roles, and their proper use can prevent contamination.

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