Outpatient Burn Care: Prevention and Treatment

Jason S Lanham, Nicole K Nelson, Bryan Hendren, Teneisha S Jordan
American Family Physician 2020 April 15, 101 (8): 463-470
Most patients with burn injuries are treated as outpatients. Two key determinants of the need for referral to a burn center are burn depth and percentage of total body surface area involved. All burn injuries are considered trauma, prompting immediate evaluation for concomitant injuries. Initial treatment is directed at stopping the burn process. Superficial (first-degree) burns involve only the epidermal layer and require simple first-aid techniques with over-the-counter pain relievers. Partial-thickness (second-degree) burns are subdivided into two categories: superficial and deep. Superficial partial-thickness burns extend into the dermis, may take up to three weeks to heal, and require advanced dressings to protect the wound and promote a moist environment. Deep partial-thickness burns require immediate referral to a burn surgeon for possible early tangential excision. Full-thickness (third-degree) burns involve the entire dermal layer, and patients with these burns should automatically be referred to a burn center. Prophylactic antibiotics are not indicated for outpatient management and may increase bacterial resistance. People with diabetes mellitus are at increased risk of complications and infection, and early referral to a burn center should be considered. Pruritus, hypertrophic scarring, and permanent hyperpigmentation are long-term complications of partial-thickness burns. Burn injuries are more likely to occur in children and older people. Patient education during primary care visits may be an effective prevention strategy.

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