Airbed or Waterbed? Being Bed-sure to prevent bedsores!

Water bed or Air bed?

Feb 28, 2023

There are innumerable treatment modalities and medications for the countless number of diseases that exist in the world, but if there is one essential factor of treatment that is common to all the diseases under the sky, it is a good night's sleep! Our bodies heal when they sleep. Hence the mattress that you sleep in has a vital role to play in your recovery from any short-term or long-term illnesses, especially from the ones that leave you bbedridden

A bed sore can be just as irritating and cumbersome as those other unwanted visitors and guests you get when you're down on your luck and bedridden. Though we can't help you with the latter, we know just exactly what you need to keep those horrible bed sores away.

But what are bed sores?

They are also called pressure ulcers and as the name suggests, they are ulcers that develop due to pressure on the skin especially over bony surfaces with minimal or no soft tissues in between. They are likely to occur when one is left immobile or bedridden for long. They manifest as red and itchy sores that not only become a health hazard on its own, but psychologically affect the patient and hamper his/her recovery from the underlying condition that caused him/her to be bedridden in the first place.

Some important points to know about bed sores:-

  • The common surfaces where bedsores present themselves are heels, tailbone, ankles, hips, shoulders and back of the head.
  • They develop when blood supply to a particular surface gets cut off for more than 2 hours leading to skin death in that particular surface.
  • As a result, bed sores have a high risk of getting infected and if they do, it could spread deep into the underlying muscle and bone. Friction injury (rug burn) is another painful complication of bedsores that leads to separation of the outer layer from the inner layer of the skin.
  • Risk factors:- In addition to being immobile for too long, there are other factors that can accelerate the onset of bed sores and they are smoking, dry skin, altered mental status like coma or the need for physical restraints, incontinence and inadequate nourishment. 

How can bedsores be prevented?

The answer lies in the question itself - Beds! The wrong bed can cause you to get bed sores whereas the right bed can prevent them altogether or keep them from progressing. A soft bed isn’t necessarily a good bed because if you sink into them, you would find it hard to change positions, especially the weaker bedridden patients. You would’ve noticed that bedsores are more common in patients bedridden at home than in the hospital. This is because hospitals mostly use special Air Mattresses that distribute pressure over a larger area thus preventing pressure from being localised to specific body parts. They are called pressure relieving mattresses and there are 4 predominant types:-

  • Static mattresses
  • Alternating or Dynamic mattresses
  • Crossover mattresses
  • Low Air Loss mattresses

Apart from static mattresses that provide pressure relief through the high-quality foam, all of the aforementioned are Air Mattresses. Air mattresses or air beds are inflatable mattresses made more often than not of textile-reinforced urethane plastic and filled with air that can be pumped in manually or electrically. Crossover mattresses are a combination of air and foam mattresses and Alternating air mattresses are the ones commonly found in hospitals. They have air cells that inflate and deflate alternately with the help of an electric pump/control unit.

It is therefore essential, especially if you have a bedridden patient at home, to replace your existing mattress with a pressure relieving Air Bed or Water Bed. But before we help you choose between the two, it is important you understand that although the bed plays an integral role, preventing and managing bedsores requires attention to other contributing factors as well. Let’s have a look at some of them : -

  • Repositioning of the patient at frequent intervals. This could be done by shifting their weights or lifting them if possible. Repositioning should be done hourly.
  • Diet - Bedridden patients often lack appetite due to a lack of mobility hence it is vital to ensure they get enough calories, proteins and minerals the body requires for prevention as well as healing of bed sores. Adequate fluid intake is also essential for skin integrity.
  • Proper skin care - Just as dryness is bad for the skin, too much moisture could also cause sores to develop. It is essential to strike a balance between the two. Keep the patient’s skin clean and examine it regularly for redness or spots. This is paramount for elderly patients (above 70 years) as skin thins with age and bedridden patients in this age group are more prone to bed sores.

What are water beds?

Water beds are just as useful as air beds in preventing bed sores as well as aiding in one’s recovery from it. It is similar to airbeds in the sense that both are inflatable but waterbeds are vinyl mattresses filled with water instead of air. They come in a frame of wood (hard-sided waterbeds) or foam (soft-sided waterbeds). The constant movement of water inside the mattress ensures an even distribution of pressure for the sleeper. As a matter of fact, plenty of studies published in medical literature support the claim that the floatation system employed by the water beds may be a tad bit more effective in the prevention and treatment of bedsores as compared to air beds. 

Apart from ittheirsefulness against bedsores, water beds provide the following advantages as well:

  • It is useful for those suffering from painful joints as it conforms to the body and reduces pressure point stress.
  • It is very soothing and provides a great night of restorative REM sleep thanks to the rocking and wavelike movement of the water.
  • As it is easy to clean and difficult for dust particles to settle in a sealed waterbed mattress, it is beneficial for asthmatic patients and those with allergies. Vinyl waterbeds are also resistant to dust mites.

Air Beds vs Water Beds - Everything you need to know!

As we know now, both waterbeds and airbeds are useful in keeping bedsores at bay. Both have their advantages and disadvantages as well. When faced with a prospect of prolonged bed rest or if you’re simply looking for a mattress with therapeutic benefits, here are a few things you could keep in mind:-

  • Air beds are more useful if you’re looking for a portable option as they can be deflated and easily transported from place to place. They can be easily rolled up and stowed away when not in use. Water beds are a heavier and more stationary option. 
  • Both air and water beds are adjustable for firmness.The latter’s firmness can be adjusted by controlling the amount of water inside whereas the former’s can be adjusted with the degree of inflation. Most Air Beds come with an electrical or manual pump. This allows the user to set the degree of firmness as some people do not like excessive bumps and movements while sleeping and this is especially true in the case of waterbeds. Waterbeds also have isolation compartments that reduce the wave movements for people who do not prefer it.
  • Apart from effectiveness against bed sores, water beds are known to have more medical benefits as compared to airbeds and have been proved to be especially effective for patients with back problems.
  • Waterbeds are generally more expensive than air beds as they are mostly bought as a permanent option whereas airbeds can be multi purposeful (camping bed, guest bed, substitute bed etc). For the same reason, Waterbeds are known to be more durable than airbeds.
  • A waterbed generally requires more maintenance and care than an airbed. It requires space and a reinforced floor that can bear the weight of the water. A heating unit can cost just as much or more than the waterbed itself and some places require the owner to have insurance to own a waterbed. Most waterbeds require a supportive framework, specially customised bedspreads and regular use of water conditioning solutions as well.
  • Conversely, airbeds can be used anywhere and carried to any place as well.

Weighing in on all the aforementioned factors, it is easy to understand why most people prefer airbeds. Most hospitals and medical establishments prefer electrically operated dynamic air mattresses as they are cost effective yet not too far behind waterbeds in therapeutic benefits. At the end of the day, it all comes down to one’s own sleep requirements. Whether to float on a bed of water or to feel light on a bed of air is up to you but do remember to get adequate good quality sleep to give our bodies a chance to recover and be healthy and happy!