Treatment of burns depends on the type and extent of the injuries. Most minor burns can be treated at home using over-the-counter products or aloe. They usually heal within a few weeks.
For serious burns, after appropriate first aid care and wound assessment, your treatment may involve medications, wound dressings, therapy and surgery. The goals of treatment are to control pain, remove dead tissue, prevent infection, reduce scarring, regain function and address emotional needs.
You may need months of additional treatments and therapy. This may be done during a hospital stay, on an outpatient basis or at home. Factors affecting this choice include your wishes, other conditions and abilities, such as whether you're able to change bandages.
Medications and wound healing products
For major burns, various medications and products are used to encourage healing.
- Water-based treatments. Your care team may use techniques such as ultrasound mist therapy to clean and stimulate the wound tissue.
- Fluids to prevent dehydration. You may need intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration and organ failure.
- Pain and anxiety medications. Healing burns can be incredibly painful. You may need morphine and anti-anxiety medications — particularly for dressing changes.
- Burn creams and ointments. Your care team can select from a variety of topical products for wound healing. These help keep the wound moist, reduce pain, prevent infection and speed healing.
- Dressings. Your care team may also use various specialty wound dressings. These create a moist environment that fights infection and helps the burn heal.
- Drugs that fight infection. If you develop an infection, you may need IV antibiotics.
- Tetanus shot. Your doctor might recommend a tetanus shot after a burn injury.
Physical and occupational therapy
If the burned area is large, especially if it covers any joints, you may need physical therapy exercises. These can help stretch the skin so the joints can remain flexible. Other types of exercises can improve muscle strength and coordination. And occupational therapy may help if you have difficulty doing your normal daily activities.
Surgical and other procedures
You may need one or more of the following procedures:
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- Breathing assistance. If you've been burned on the face or neck, your throat may swell shut. If that appears likely, your doctor may insert a tube down your windpipe (trachea) to keep oxygen supplied to your lungs.
- Tube feeding. Your metabolism goes into overdrive when your body starts trying to heal your burns. To provide adequate nutrition for this task, you doctor may thread a feeding tube through your nose to your stomach.
- Easing blood flow around the wound. If a burn scab (eschar) goes completely around a limb, it can tighten and cut off the blood circulation. A scab (eschar) that goes completely around the chest can make it difficult to breathe. Your doctor may cut the eschar in several places to relieve this pressure. This procedure is called decompression.
- Skin grafts. A skin graft is a surgical procedure in which sections of your own healthy skin are used to replace the scar tissue caused by deep burns. Donor skin from cadavers or pigs can be used as a temporary solution.
- Plastic surgery. Plastic surgery (reconstruction) can improve the appearance of burn scars and increase the flexibility of joints affected by scarring.
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