CHEST SEALS (Non-Vented)
Chest Seals have been around the military for well over a century, in one form or another. If truth be told, even the caveman probably recognized that if another caveman suffered an injury to the chest and it was either bleeding, bubbling, gurgling, or sucking…..at the very least he probably covered the wound with the palm of his hand. This is just a normal reaction when we see an obvious defect of the chest. We instinctively try to cover that hole with something.
This product review is going to cover Non-Vented Chest Seals. Two of the most popular non-vented chest seals are the Hyfin and HALO. Now, before I get too far into this review, let’s start off with the statement that I would only recommend qualified medical person use these products. Here’s why: If a patient has any sort of wound to their chest, you can potentially make it worse by placing a complete seal over that wound. When I slap on a chest seal, I am going to very quickly follow that up with a needle or chest tube into the thoracic cavity. In the medical world, we use these seals all the time. We even use them on the battlefield, with great success. The difference is in the training and capabilities of the personnel using the Chest seals. They simply have a level of training that the ordinary civilian does not have.
When I use a Chest Seal it is to completely cover a defect of the chest wall. Once that seal is in place, I have a 14 gauge, 3-1/4 inch needle that is standing by, ready to puncture the chest to allow any trapped air or blood out of the thoracic cavity. I am also preparing to do a chest tube. These are tasks that one must be trained on, and non-medical people will never receive that training.
So, the obvious question is, “Why are you doing a product review on a piece of gear I will never use?” The answer is because a lot of first responder and pre-packed first aid kits have these chest seals in them. Right now, I can go to several different sites and find these seals in pre-packed kits that are being sold to untrained individuals. You need to know what to look for so you can avoid these products!
The two most common non-vented chest seals are the Hyfin and HALO. You can find them easily with a simple web search. Both of these products are basically manufactured in the same way. They have a very sticky adhesive with a non-porous membrane that completely seals off a wound. They are not meant to stop bleeding. All they do is cover/seal a defect.
I have used both of these products and they work well for their intended purpose. The HALO is the more prevalent one that I have seen on the battlefield. It comes in a package of two: one for an entry wound, the other for an exit wound. I have also used the two together on one large wound that left a gaping hole in the side of civilian that was blown up. I simply overlapped the edges and it worked very well to seal the defect.
What will happen if I use a Non-Vented Chest Seal on a thoracic cavity wound? Penetrating chest wounds can cause bleeding into the thoracic cavity (hemothorax), and air to escape from the lungs into the thoracic cavity (pneumothorax). Both of these conditions can lead to an increase of pressure on the injured side of the chest. As this pressure continues to increase, it will collapse the lung on the injured side. The pressure can increase even more until it starts to collapse the lung on the unaffected side and eventually the heart. If your lungs and heart collapse, this is usually not conducive to sustaining life. The correct treatment is to prevent or relieve the pressure that is built up within the chest cavity.
The product that most civilians need is a Vented Chest Seal. This allows the user to cover the defect, but also to allow trapped air and blood to escape from the chest cavity. At this point, you should probably check out my Product Review for the Vented Chest Seals. Unless you have been trained to do a Needle Thoracentesis or Chest Tube placement; the vented chest seals are the products you should carry in your trauma kit.
Patrick O’Neil, PA