Sterile products are used in the medical industry to decrease the risk of infection or other complications. There are numerous types, including gloves, needles and syringes, pads and bandages, catheter tubes, and water. Using sterile products on any area of the body that is already sterile by nature significantly decreases the risk of introducing a new pathogen to the system. Generally, disposable sterile products are sterilized before packaging, and remain that way until opened and used.
Gloves are among the most commonly used sterile products because they are required for numerous procedures. Sterile gloves differ from the common latex gloves used for simple procedures such as bathing or examining a patient. They come in a sealed package and users must follow a specific technique to put them on, as touching the outside surface of a sterile glove destroys its sterility. Nurses and doctors are taught the correct procedure for putting on sterile gloves during their medical training.
Needles and syringes are also commonly used sterile products. Every time a patient has blood drawn, is given an injection, or receives an intravenous line, a sterile needle and syringe must be used. Needles penetrate the surface of the skin, and without proper sterilization, they have a high potential to introduce viruses or bacteria into the blood. The insides of syringe must also be sterile because they either carry solutions to be injected into the body or remove blood — which is already sterile — for testing.
Sterile pads and bandages are used to help stop bleeding or to protect an injured part of the body. There are many different types and sizes of sterile pads and bandages, including gauze wraps, large abdominal pads, and smaller square pads. Minor cuts may only require small bandages, while larger, freshly sutured areas may be covered with large pads to prevent exposure to air. These sterile products are typically individually wrapped to prevent cross-contamination.
Urinary catheter tubes are used to drain the bladder, and require careful sterile procedure to avoid causing serious urinary tract infections. Catheters can be used both short-term and long-term. Sterile urine samples may be collected by inserting a catheter, draining urine into a sterile container, and then removing the catheter.
Sterile water can be used for several purposes, including injections and wound irrigation. It can also be used to clean instruments, although it is typically not the sole source of instrument sterilization. Sterile water is prepared by distillation, a method in which water is boiled and its vapors are collected in a sterile container. The resulting water is itself sterile and does not contain any added buffers or antimicrobial agents.
Since sterility is essential to most surgical procedures, some single-use surgical instruments are also available. While these can be convenient, other tools are too expensive to throw away after each use. Surgical instruments and other medical tools that are used many times require careful sterilization after each use. Instruments may be sterilized through the use of heat, such as steam or radiation, or through chemical procedures, such as the use of diethylene glycol.