One of the many side effects of prolonged bed rest is developing pressure ulcers or, as they’re commonly known, bed sores—areas of skin that first redden and then can turn into open sores that, if untreated, become infected. Pressure ulcers are identified by their stage of development, from Stage 1 to Stage IV, increasing in severity. Typical areas of skin affected are those over bony parts of the body—it might be hard to imagine that simply laying in bed can produce such a reaction, but all it takes is the pressure of bone against skin against the flat surface of a typical mattress to alter the natural flow of blood that nourishes skin.
Studies have shown that in hospital and long-term care facilities alike, up to a third of patients develop bed sores. In addition to changing position frequently, lying on a pressure relief mattress can help enormously. Pressure points can be protected by either pressure-reducing surfaces, such as a static air pressure mattress, or pressure-relieving surfaces, such as an alternating air pressure mattress. A pressure reduction device reduces pressure, though not as much as a pressure relief mattress.
Once ulcers have developed, in most cases only a pressure relief mattress combined with skin protection and wound-healing measures will help.
Prevention Is Best
The best approach is to prevent ulcers from happening in the first place. If bed rest is part of recuperation from illness or if your nightly sleep position creates uncomfortable pressure points, a bed sore mattress like the Thera Pad Extra Thick 4 Inch Eggcrate Bed Pad can help prevent pressure sores.
Another choice is a water and gel mattress pad to reduce interface pressure while providing a cooler, more comfortable sleeping surface. Look for an internal baffle design that balances your body in the center of the mattress while eliminating the traditional water mattress rocking effect; good designs are often made from anti-microbial, medical grade vinyl.
If you want more than pressure reduction, investigate a pressure relief mattress system. An alternating pressure relief mattress is often is divided into several compartments that are alternately inflated and deflated by an electrical pump. The Alternating Pressure Relief Bubble Pad System from Invacare is a 2.5" thick mattress with a pump specifically designed for therapy treatment and prevention of Stage l pressure sores. The control knob turns the unit on and off and adjusts the comfort range in 8 levels.
Another option is a full mattress replacement. Invacare’s Alternating Pressure Relief Mattress Replacement System is an 8" thick mattress that aids in the treatment of pressure sores in Stages I and II. The pump features a clip-on hanger, adjustable comfort range, visible normal and low pressure indicators and a static function to suspend the alternating mode. Cycle time is 8 minutes with pressure ranges from 30-50 mmHg. The mattress has twenty interchangeable, individual 8" nylon/polyurethane air bladders for easy cleaning and maintenance and features an emergency CPR valve and quick connector for easy operation.
The Therapeutic Foam 5 Zone Pressure Reduction Support Mattress by Drive Medical is a deluxe, deep foam mattress also designed to prevent pressure related bed sores and ulcers. Its mattress features an egg crate top layer to reduce painful pressure points and increases comfort and support. The removable nylon cover reduces friction and minimizes resistance to ensure optimal skin integrity; it’s also breathable, waterproof, machine washable and anti-microbial.
Once bed sores develop, a more sophisticated air pressure mattress system may be needed. The Roho Dry Floatation Mattress Overlay-4 Section  has four individually adjustable 20" x 34" sections with rows of soft, interconnected, air-filled cells that conforms precisely to the contours of the body, providing "passive compression therapy" against the skin. This allows for enhanced blood flow to the wound site, maximizing the healing process.
Be sure to ask your doctor for guidance on the right pressure mattress to prevent and/or manage bed sores if you will be in bed for a prolonged period of time.