Burns: Treatments

FYI: This is a more clinical post.

Resuscitation begins with the assessment and stabilization of the person’s airway, breathing and circulation (as with all emergency treatments). If inhalation injury is suspected, early intubation may be required. Inhalation burns cause swelling that can cause the airway to close. Intubation is when a tube is put into the air way to keep it open. This is followed by care of the burn wound itself. People with extensive burns may be wrapped in clean sheets until they arrive at a hospital. As burn wounds are prone to infection, a tetanus booster shot should be given if an individual has not been immunized within the last five years. In the United States, 95% of burns that present to the emergency department are treated and discharged; 5% require hospital admission. With major burns, early feeding to the tissues is important. Hyperbaric oxygenation may be useful in addition to traditional treatments.

Intravenous fluids

In those with poor tissue perfusion, boluses of isotonic crystalloid solution should be given. In children with more than 10-20% Total Body Surface Area (TBSA) burns, and adults with more than 15% TBSA burns, formal fluid resuscitation and monitoring should follow. This should be begun pre-hospital if possible in those with burns greater than 25% TBSA. The formula is based on the affected individual’s TBSA and weight. Half of the fluid is administered over the first 8 hours, and the remainder over the following 16 hours. The time is calculated from when the burn occurred, and not from the time that fluid resuscitation began. Children require additional maintenance fluid that includes glucose. Additionally, those with inhalation injuries require more fluid. While inadequate fluid resuscitation may cause problems, over-resuscitation can also be detrimental. The formulas are only a guide, with infusions ideally tailored to a urinary output of >30 mL/h in adults or >1mL/kg in children and mean arterial pressure greater than 60 mmHg.

While lactated Ringer’s solution is often used, there is no evidence that it is superior to normal saline. Crystalloid fluids appear just as good as colloid fluids, and as colloids are more expensive they are not recommended. Blood transfusions are rarely required. They are typically only recommended when the hemoglobin level falls below 60-80 g/L (6-8 g/dL) due to the associated risk of complications. Intravenous catheters may be placed through burned skin if needed or intraosseous infusions may be used.

Wound care

Early cooling (within 30 minutes of the burn) reduces burn depth and pain, but care must be taken as over-cooling can result in hypothermia. It should be performed with cool water 10–25 °C (50.0–77.0 °F) and not ice water as the latter can cause further injury. Chemical burns may require extensive irrigation. Cleaning with soap and water, removal of dead tissue, and application of dressings are important aspects of wound care. If intact blisters are present, it is not clear what should be done with them. Some tentative evidence supports leaving them intact. Second-degree burns should be re-evaluated after two days.

In the management of first and second-degree burns, little quality evidence exists to determine which dressing type to use. It is reasonable to manage first-degree burns without dressings. While topical antibiotics are often recommended, there is little evidence to support their use. Silver sulfadiazine (a type of antibiotic) is not recommended as it potentially prolongs healing time. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of dressings containing silver or negative-pressure wound therapy.


Burns can be very painful and a number of different options may be used for pain management. These include simple analgesics (such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen) and opioids such as morphine. Benzodiazepines may be used in addition to analgesics to help with anxiety which is common in severly burned individuals. During the healing process, antihistamines, massage, or transcutaneous nerve stimulation may be used to aid with itching. Antihistamines, however, are only effective for this purpose in 20% of people. There is tentative evidence supporting the use of gabapentin and its use may be reasonable in those who do not improve with antihistamines. Intravenous lidocaine requires more study before it can be recommended for pain.

Intravenous antibiotics are recommended before surgery for those with extensive burns (>60% TBSA). As of 2008, guidelines do not recommend their general use due to concerns regarding antibiotic resistance and the increased risk of fungal infections. Tentative evidence, however, shows that they may improve survival rates in those with large and severe burns. Erythropoietin has not been found effective to prevent or treat anemia in burn cases. In burns caused by hydrofluoric acid, calcium gluconate is a specific antidote and may be used intravenously and/or topically. Recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH) in those with burns that involve more than 40% of their body appears to speed healing without affecting the risk of death.


Wounds requiring surgical closure with skin grafts or flaps (typically anything more than a small full thickness burn) should be dealt with as early as possible. Circumferential burns of the limbs or chest may need urgent surgical release of the skin, known as an escharotomy. This is done to treat or prevent problems with distal circulation, or ventilation. It is uncertain if it is useful for neck or digit burns. Fasciotomies may be required for electrical burns.

Alternative medicine

Honey has been used since ancient times to aid wound healing and may be beneficial in first- and second-degree burns. The evidence for aloe vera is of poor quality. While it might be beneficial in reducing pain, and a review from 2007 found tentative evidence of improved healing times a subsequent review from 2012 did not find improved healing over silver sulfadiazine. There were only three randomized controlled trials for the use of plants for burns, two for aloe vera and one for oatmeal.

There is little evidence that vitamin E helps with keloids or scarring. Butter is not recommended. In low income countries, burns are treated up to one-third of the time with traditional medicine, which may include applications of eggs, mud, leaves or cow dung. Surgical management is limited in some cases due to insufficient financial resources and availability. There are a number of other methods that may be used in addition to medications to reduce procedural pain and anxiety including: virtual reality therapy, hypnosis, and behavioral approaches such as distraction techniques.


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Posted on August 19, 2015, in Medical and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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