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How Medical Airflow Mattresses Relieve Pressure Ulcers

Bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers, can be a serious concern for individuals who are immobile or bedridden. These painful wounds occur when pressure on the skin and underlying tissues restricts blood flow, leading to tissue damage.

However, medical airflow mattresses have emerged as an effective solution to prevent and alleviate bedsores.

In this article, we will delve into the mechanism behind how medical airflow mattresses work to prevent bedsores and discuss the benefits they offer to both carers and patients.

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NHS UK & NICE Standards:

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides national health and social care guidance and advice for the whole of the UK. When it comes to the NHS, NICE work to:

  • Independently assess the value of new/existing treatments and interventions
  • To ensure front line professionals, the public and patients have access to the latest treatment, advice, and guidance. 

With these stated aims, NICE can therefore be used as a good reference point for NHS UK ‘best practice’ techniques for pressure ulcer care.

Quotation from 'National Institute for Health and Care Excellence'. The quote reads: Seating or beds not designed to provide pressure relief can contribute to pressure ulcers.

NICE Quality Statement  8 which covers pressure redistribution devices such as profiling beds beds and airflow mattresses recommends that “People at high risk of developing pressure ulcers are provided with pressure redistribution devices.”

According to NHS UK, individuals at risk of pressure injuries should be provided with an appropriate support surface, such as a medical airflow mattress, to aid in pressure redistribution.

NICE recommends that alternating pressure mattresses be considered for individuals with existing pressure ulcers, as they can promote healing and prevent further deterioration.

Healthcare Professional Tip:
  1. Utilise medical airflow mattresses with alternating pressure technology
  2. They provide optimal pressure redistribution for bedridden or low mobility patients
  3. Regularly assess the patient’s condition and adjust the pressure settings as needed

Understanding Bedsores and the Importance of Pressure Relief:

Bedsores, or pressure injuries, occur when prolonged pressure restricts blood flow to specific areas of the body, leading to tissue damage. Immobility or spending extended periods in bed increases the risk of developing these painful wounds.

The weight of the body puts continuous pressure on areas such as the hips, tailbone, heels, and shoulders, compromising blood circulation and causing tissues to break down.

Image illustrating the various stages of pressure ulcers.

Understanding How Medical Airflow Mattresses Work:

Medical airflow mattresses use advanced technology to reduce the risk of bedsores. They are made with alternating pressure and air-filled cells, which help distribute pressure evenly.

This feature helps relieve pressure on specific areas, improving blood circulation and reducing the chances of tissue damage.

The constant air flow and microclimate control also keep the skin dry and comfortable by managing moisture effectively.

Illustration showing how alternating air cushions work to manage/treat pressure injuries/wounds.

Alternating Airflow is used to care for patients at the highest risk of pressure injuries.

The NICE quality standard guidelines for pressure ulcers notes that “the use of equipment such as seating or beds that are not specifically designed to provide pressure relief can also contribute to the development of pressure ulcers.”

Maintaining Skin Dryness and Comfort:

Excessive moisture from sweating can increase the susceptibility to bedsores so many medical airflow mattresses feature a specialised system that manages moisture and keeps the skin dry.

These pressure care mattresses facilitate air circulation, preventing moisture build-up on the patient’s skin and maintaining a comfortable and dry environment. This feature is particularly beneficial for individuals who sweat or have limited mobility.


Quote card showing the Skin Assessment Quality Statement from NICE

Microclimate Control:

Maintaining a healthy microclimate around the skin is crucial for preventing pressure sores. Excessive moisture, such as sweat or trapped humidity, can soften the skin and make it more vulnerable to damage.

Medical airflow mattresses incorporate microclimate control features to manage moisture effectively.

Some mattresses have a low air loss system that circulates air through the mattress surface, reducing perspiration and maintaining a dry environment. The continuous airflow through the mattress surface reduces moisture buildup, enhancing patient comfort and minimising the risk of skin breakdown.

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This helps keep the skin cool and dry, minimising the risk of skin breakdown. This feature is particularly beneficial for individuals prone to sweating or with limited mobility.

Healthcare Professional Tip: Incorporate medical airflow mattresses with low air loss systems into care plans for patients at risk of moisture-related skin breakdown. Regularly monitor the patient’s skin condition and adjust the airflow settings to maintain a dry and comfortable microclimate.

Pressure Relief and Shear Reduction:

One of the main ways medical airflow mattresses prevent bedsores is by relieving pressure on vulnerable areas.

These mattresses have air-filled cells that inflate and deflate in a cycle, ensuring that no single area is under constant pressure. This helps minimise the risk of tissue damage and promotes better skin health.

What’s more, medical airflow mattresses address the issue of shear and friction, which can contribute to the development of bedsores. The cushioning effect of the air-filled cells reduces the forces that occur when the skin moves against the mattress.

By minimising shear and friction, these mattresses protect the skin and promote healing.

Repositioning and Pressure Relief:

Regular repositioning plays a vital role in preventing bedsores. NHS UK advises healthcare professionals to establish repositioning schedules for individuals at risk.

Medical airflow mattresses complement this strategy by providing effective pressure relief, reducing the need for frequent manual repositioning.

By relieving pressure on specific areas and promoting better blood circulation, these mattresses significantly minimise the risk of bedsores, providing relief to caregivers and improving the overall comfort of patients.

Healthcare Professional Tip:

Develop a comprehensive care plan that combines regular repositioning with the use of medical airflow mattresses. Optimise patient comfort and pressure relief by incorporating alternating pressure settings and ensuring appropriate pressure redistribution throughout the day.

Benefits for Carers:

Medical airflow mattresses offer significant benefits to carers, enhancing their ability to provide quality care. The table below highlights some key advantages:

Support and Comfort:

Medical airflow mattresses are designed with the comfort and well-being of the individual in mind. They are made of high-quality materials that provide support and proper alignment for the body.

Some mattresses use advanced foam technologies, such as memory foam, that conform to the body’s contours, reducing pressure points and ensuring optimal comfort.

By supporting the body’s natural curves and distributing the weight evenly, these mattresses relieve pressure on vulnerable areas, enhancing overall comfort and reducing the risk of pressure sores.

Benefits for Patients:

Medical airflow mattresses prioritise patient comfort and well-being while preventing bedsores. Here are some notable benefits:

Profiling Beds and Choosing the Right Equipment:

In addition to medical airflow mattresses, the use of profiling beds and selecting the right equipment is crucial in preventing bedsores and ensuring optimal comfort for bedridden or low mobility individuals.

Profiling beds are specially designed beds that can be adjusted to various positions, allowing for customisation according to the patient’s needs. These beds offer a range of benefits that contribute to pressure injury prevention:

When choosing the right equipment for pressure injury prevention, it is essential to consider the specific needs and condition of the individual.

Healthcare professionals and caregivers should follow the guidelines provided by NHS UK and NICE regarding the correct usage of equipment, including selecting the right mattresses and regularly ensuring their functionality.

Healthcare Professional Tip:
  • Combine the benefits of medical airflow mattresses with profiling beds to achieve optimal patient positioning and pressure distribution.
  • Educate caregivers on the correct use of profiling beds and equipment to enhance patient comfort and reduce the risk of pressure injuries.

Compliance with NHS UK and NICE Guidelines:

Medical airflow mattresses align with the guidelines and recommendations set by NHS UK and NICE, ensuring high standards of care. By incorporating these mattresses into care plans, healthcare professionals can confidently provide effective pressure relief for bedridden or low mobility patients, adhering to established protocols.

Healthcare Professional Tip:
  • Familiarise yourself with the latest NHS UK and NICE guidelines regarding pressure injury prevention and the use of medical airflow mattresses.
  • Stay updated on any changes to ensure your care practices align with the best standards of care.


Medical airflow mattresses play a crucial role in preventing bedsores by utilising alternating pressure, air-filled cells, and microclimate control. These features effectively distribute pressure, reduce shear forces, and improve blood circulation, mitigating the risk of tissue damage and promoting skin integrity.

Moreover, these mattresses offer a range of benefits to both caregivers and patients, including reduced caregiver strain, enhanced patient comfort, and efficient prevention of pressure ulcers.

Investing in medical airflow mattresses not only ensures optimal care for patients but also improves their quality of life. With their significant advantages and potential to alleviate bedsores, these mattresses continue to be a valuable asset in the healthcare industry.

Date Published

21 June 2023

Reading Time

7 minutes

Author avatar


Brian Chege

Brian is a university graduate with a particular interest in researching and writing about healthcare topics, including medical conditions, and current NHS issues and solutions. To ensure his articles are relevant and accurate, Brian uses UK government and private sector reports, and draws on a vast network of independent occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and healthcare professionals to both inform and verify his work.

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