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Thermal destruction of the skin results in severe local and systemic
alterations. This destruction can occur from thermal energy,
chemical reactions, electricity, or the response to cold. The
management of the patient with a major thermal injury requires
understanding of the pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment not
only of the local skin injury but also of the derangements that occur
in hemodynamic, metabolic, nutritional, immunologic, and
psychologic homeostatic mechanisms.
A. Pathophysiology:Amount of tissue destruction is based on
temperature (>40˚C) and time of exposure (Fig. 8-1)
B. Diagnosis and prognosis
1. Burn size: % of total body surface area (TBSA) burned
a. Rough estimate is based on rule of 9s (Fig. 8-2)
b. Different charts are required for adults and
children because of head-chest size discrepancy
and limb differentials for ages birth to seven
years (Fig. 8-3 and 8-4)

Fig. 8-1
Fig. 8-2 Fig. 8-3

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2. Age: burns at the extremes of age carry a greater
morbidity and mortality
3. Depth: difficult to assess initially
a. History of etiologic agent and time of exposure
b. Classification (Fig. 8-5)
i. First degree: erythema but no skin breaks
ii. Second degree: blisters, red and painful
(a) Superficial partial-thickness, involves
epidermis and upper dermis
(b) Deep partial-thickness, involves deeper
iii. Third degree: full-thickness-insensate,
charred or leathery
iv. Fourth degree: muscle, bone
4. Location: face and neck, hands, feet, and perineum
may cause special problems and warrant careful
attention; often necessitate hospitalization/burn
5. Inhalation injury: beware of closed quarters burn,
burned nasal hair, carbon particles in pharynx,
hoarseness, conjunctivitis
6. Associated injuries, e.g. fractures

Fig. 8-4

Fig. 8-5
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7. Co-morbid factors, e.g. pre-existing cardiovascular,
respiratory, renal and metabolic diseases; seizure Categoriz ation of bur ns ( Am er i can Bur n Associ at i on) :
disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse
Major Burn Moderate Burn Minor Burn
8. Prognosis: best determined by burn size (TBSA) and
Size-Partial > 25% adults 15-25% adults < 15% adults
age of patient, inhalation injury thickness > 20% children 10-20% children < 10% children
9. Circumferential burns: can restrict blood flow to Size-Full >10% 2-10% < 2%
extremity, respiratory excursion of chest and may thickness
require escharotomy Primary major burn not involved not involved
C. Categorization of burns is used to make treatment areas if involved
decisions and to decide if treatment in a burn center is Inhalation major burn if
injury present or not suspected not suspected
necessary (Table 8-1,Table 8-2) suspected
D. Treatment plan Associated major burn if not present not present
1. History and physical exam injury present
2. Relieve respiratory distress — escharotomy and/or Co-morbid poor risk patients patient relatively not present
intubation factors make burn major good risk
3. Prevent and/or treat burn shock — IV — large bore Miscellaneous electrical injuries
needle Treatment usually general hospital often managed
4. Monitor resuscitation — Foley catheter and hourly environment specialized with designated as out-patient
burn care facility team
urine output
5. Treat ileus and nausea — N.G. tube if > 20% burn Table 8-1
6. Tetanus prophylaxis
7. Baseline laboratory studies i.e. Hct., UA, glucose, BUN,
chest x-ray, electrolytes, EKG, cross-match, arterial
blood gases, and carboxyhemoglobin Burns That Di ct at e Pat i ent Adm i ssi on t o a
8. Cleanse, debride, and treat the burn wound Ho spi t al or Bur n Cent er
E. Respiratory distress
• 2˚ and 3˚ burns greater than 10% of BSA in patients
1. Three major causes of respiratory distress in the
under 10 or over 50 years of age
burned patient:
a. Unyielding burn eschar encircling chest • 2˚ and 3˚ burns greater than 20% BSA in any age group
i. Distress may be apparent immediately • 2˚ and 3˚ burns posing a serious threat of functional or
ii. Requires escharotomy (cutting into the cosmetic impairment, e.g. the face, hands, feet, genitalia,
eschar to relieve constriction) perineum, and about major joints)
b. Carbon monoxide poisoning • 3˚ burns greater than 5% BSA in any age
i. May be present immediately or later
• Electrical burns including lightning
ii. Diagnosed by carboxyhemoglobin levels
measured in arterial blood gas • Chemical burns posing a serious threat of functional or
iii. Initial Rx is displacement of CO by 100% O2 cosmetic impairment
by facemask • Inhalation injury
iv. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment may be of • Burns associated with major trauma

Table 8-2
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c. Smoke inhalation leading to pulmonary injury 2. Resuscitation requires replacement of sodium ions
i. Insidious in onset (18-36) hours and water to restore plasma volume and cardiac
ii. Due to incomplete products of combustion, output
not heat a. Many formulas have been reported to achieve
iii. Causes chemical injury to alveolar basement resuscitation
membrane and pulmonary edema i. This can be given by prescribing 4cc
iv. Initial Rx is humidified O2 but intubation Ringer’s lactate/Kg/%TBSA burn over the
and respiratory support may be required first 24 hours (Baxter or Parkland Hospital
v. Secondary bacterial infection of the initial formula)
chemical injury leads to progressive ii. 1/2 of the first 24 hour fluid requirement
pulmonary insufficiency should be given in the first eight hours
vi. Severe inhalation injury alone or in postburn and the remaining 1/2 over the
combination with thermal injury carries a next 16 hours
grave prognosis b. A plasma volume gap may remain
vii. Three stages of presentation have been Restored between 24-30 hours postburn by
described: administering .35-.50cc plasma/Kg/% TBSA burn
(a) Acute pulmonary insufficiency c. After 30 hours D5W can be given at a rate to
(immediately post burn to 48 hours) maintain a normal serum sodium
(b) Pulmonary edema (48-72 hours) G. Monitoring resuscitation
(c) Bronchopneumonia (25 days) 1. Urine output 30-55cc/hr in adults and 1.2cc/Kg/hr in
F. Burn shock children < age 12
1. Massive amounts of fluid, electrolytes, and protein are 2. A clear sensorium, pulse <120/min, HCO3 > 18
lost from circulation almost immediately after meq/L, cardiac output >3.1 L/M2
burning (Table 8-3) 3. CVP in acute major burns is unreliable
H. Treatment of the burn wound (Table 8-4)
1. Wound closure by the patient’s own skin is the
B u rn o r A s s o cia te d C o ndition Dic tating ultimate goal of treatment
E x tra F lu id A d min is tration a. By spontaneous healing
b. Autograft
• Underestimation of the % TBSA burn c. Allograft
• Burn greater than 80% TBSA d. Xenograft
• Associated traumatic injury e. Artificial skin
f. Cultured epithelial cells
• Electrical burn 2. Specific treatment of the burn wound differs from
• Associated inhalation injury one burn center to another
• Delayed start of resuscitation a. The most commonly employed topical
antibacterials are silver sulfadiazine (Silvadene®)
• 4º burn
and mafenide acetate (Sulfamylon®)
• Administration of osmotic diuretics b. Status of burn wound bacterial colonization and
• Pediatric burns effectiveness of topical antibacterial treatment
can be monitored by biopsies of wound for
Table 8-3 quantitative and qualitative bacteriology
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3. Necrotic tissues may be removed by any of several
S a mp le O rd ers techniques:
F o r a 7 0 K g 4 0 y e a r o ld p a tie n t w ith a 40% flame burn: a. Formal excision
b. Tangential (layered) debridement
1. Admit to ICU portion of burn center c. Enzymatic debridement
2. Strict bedrest with head elevated 45˚ d. Hydrotherapy — a useful adjunct
3. Maintain elevation of burned extremities 4. Autografts should be applied to priority areas first,
4. Vital signs: pulse, BP respiration q 15 min, temperature q 2 h such as the hands, face and important joints
5. Check circulation of extremities (capillary refill or 5. Once healed, pressure is usually necessary with
Doppler) q 30 min elastic supports to minimize hypertrophic scarring
6. 100% O2 face mask 6. Physical therapy — important adjunct in burn care
7. Infuse Ringer’s lactate at 700cc for first hour, then reassess I. Complications: can occur in every physiologic system
8. Measure urinary output by Foley catheter to closed secondary to burn injury (Table 8-5)
drainage 1. Renal failure
9. Notify physician of first hour’s urine output (must be 30- a. From hypovolemia
50cc: 1.2-1.5cc in pediatric patient) b. Beware of nephrotoxic antibiotics in the burn
10. N.P.O. patient
11. N.G. tube to intermittent low suction
12. Measure pH of gastric content q 2 h — stress ulcer
prophylaxis (e.g. Zantac)
13. Morphine sulfate 4 mg intravenously q 2-3 hr prn pain -
Ris k Fac tor s i n Bur n Wound I nf ect i on
no intramuscular narcotics (unreliable absorption)
14. Tetanus toxoid 0.5cc IM (if patient previously immunized) I. PATIENT FACTORS
15. Send blood for Hct., glucose, BUN, cross match 2 units, A. Extent of burn > 30% of body surface
electrolytes B. Depth of burn: full-thickness vs. partial-thickness
16. Urine for U.A. and culture C. Age of patient (very young or very old at higher risk)
17. Chest x-ray D. Pre-existing disease
18. EKG E. Wound dryness
19. Arterial blood gases q 6 h and prn F. Wound temperature
20. Cleanse wounds with Betadine solution, debride all G. Secondary impairment of blood flow to wound
blisters, map injury on Lund-Browder chart, and H. Acidosis
photograph wounds II. MICROBIAL FACTORS
21. Apply silver sulfadiazine to all wounds with sterile gloved A. Density >105 organisms per gram of tissue
hand (use reverse isolation technique when burn wounds B. Motility
are exposed) C. Metabolic products
22. Dress wounds with burn gauze and surgifix 1. Endotoxin
23. Splint extremities as per physical therapist 2. Exotoxins
24. Change all dressings, cleanse wounds, and reapply topical 3. Permeability factors
antibacterial q 8 h or q 12 h 4. Other factors
25. Bronchoscopy — If inhalation injury suspected D. Antimicrobial resistance

Table 8-4 Table 8-5

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2. Gastrointestinal bleeding 5. Wound contracture and hypertrophic scarring
a. More likely in burns over 40% a. Largely preventable
b. Usually remains subclinical b. Since a burn wound will contract until it meets
c. Antacids and H2 blockers an opposing force, splinting is necessary from
d. Increased risk with burn wound sepsis the outset
3. Burn wound sepsis i. Splints are used to prevent joint
a. Monitored by tissue biopsy — qualitative and contractures, e.g. elbow and knee are kept
quantitative in extension, and MCP joints of fingers in
b. Must keep bacterial count < 105 bacteria/gm of flexion
tissue c. Timely wound closure with adequate amounts of
c. Clinically suspect sepsis with skin should largely eliminate these problems
i. Sudden onset of hyper or hypothermia d. Continued postoperative splinting and elastic
ii. Unexpected congestive heart failure or pressure supports are of value in the remolding
pulmonary edema of collagen with prevention of hypertrophic
iii. Development of the acute respiratory scars
distress syndrome
iv. Ileus occurring after 48 hours postburn II. CHEMICAL BURNS
v. Mental status change A. Pathophysiology
vi. Azotemia 1. Tissue damage secondary to a chemical depends on:
vii. Thrombocytopenia a. Nature of agent
viii. Hypofibrinogenemia b. Concentration of the agent
ix. Hyper or hypoglycemia is especially suspect c. Quantity of the agent
if burn > 40% TBSA d. Length of time the agent is in contact with tissue
x. Blood cultures may be positive but in many e. Degree of tissue penetration
cases are not f. Mechanism of action
4. Progressive pulmonary insufficiency B. Diagnosis
a. Can occur after: 1. Chemical burns are deeper than initially appear and
i. Smoke inhalation may progress with time
ii. Pneumonia a. Fluid resuscitation needs often underestimated
iii. Cardiac decompensation b. Watch for renal/liver/pulmonary damage
iv. Sepsis from any cause C. Treatment
b. Produces: 1. Initial treatment is dilution of the chemical with
i. Hypoxemia water
ii. Hypocarbia 2. Special attention to eyes — after copious irrigation
iii. Pulmonary shunting with saline, consult ophthalmologist
iv. Acidosis 3. After 12 hours initial dilution, local care of the wound
with debridement, topical antibacterials, and eventual
wound closure is same as for thermal burn

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D. Of particular note are: B. Diagnosis
1. Gasoline 1. Types of injury
a. Excretion by lung a. Arc injury: localized injury caused by intense
b. May cause large skin burn, if immersed heat
c. Watch for atelectasis, pulmonary infiltrates; b. Injury due to current
surfactant is inhibited i. Due to heat generated as current flows
2. Phenol through tissue
a. Dull, gray color to skin, may turn black (a) Injury more severe in tissue with high
b. Urine may appear smoky in color resistance (i.e. bone)
c. Spray water on burn surface (b) Vessels thrombose as current passes
d. Wipe with polyethylene glycol rapidly along them
e. Direct renal toxicity ii. Effects of current may not be immediately
3. Hydrofluoric acid seen
a. Irrigate copiously with water C. Special effects of electrical injury
b. Subcutaneous injections of 10% of calcium 1. Cardiopulmonary
gluconate a. Anoxia and ventricular fibrillation may cause
c. Monitor EKG patients — may become immediate death
hypocalcemic b. Early and delayed rhythm abnormalities can
d. Pulmonary edema may occur if subjected to occur
fumes c. EKG changes may occur some time after the
4. White phosphorous burn
a. Do not allow to desiccate — may ignite 2. Renal
b. Each particle must be removed mechanically a. High risk of renal failure due to hemoglobin and
c. Copper sulfate (2%) may counteract to make myoglobin deposits in renal tubules
phosphorous more visible (turns black in color) i. Requires higher urine flow (75cc/hr in
d. Watch for EKG changes (Q – T interval and adults)
S – T and T wave changes) ii. Must alkalinize urine to keep hemoglobin
e. May cause hemoglobinuria and renal failure and myoglobin in more soluble state
iii. Mannitol may be useful to clear heavy
A. Pathophysiology 3. Fractures:
1. Effects of passage of electric current through the a. Tetanic muscle contractions may be strong
body depend on: enough to fracture bones, especially spine
a. Type of circuit 4. Spinal cord damage
b. Voltage of circuit a. Can occur secondary to fracture or
c. Resistance offered by body demyelinating effect of current
d. Amperage of current flowing through tissue 5. Abdominal effects
e. Pathway of current through the body a. Intraperitoneal damage can occur to G.I. tract
f. Duration of contact secondary to current
2. Tissue resistance to electrical current increases from
nerve (least resistant) to vessel to muscle to skin to
tendon to fat to bone
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6. Vascular effects c. Ability of various tissue to withstand cold injury
a. Vessel thrombosis progresses with time is inversely proportional to their water content
b. Delayed rupture of major vessels can occur 2. Treatment
7. Cataract formation — late complication a. The key to successful treatment is rapid
8. Seizures rewarming in a 40˚C waterbath
D. Treatment i. Admission to hospital usually required
1. CPR if necessary (a) Tetanus prophylaxis
2. Fluids — usually large amounts (b) Wound management
a. No formula is accurate because injury is more (c) Physical therapy
extensive than can be predicted by skin damage (i) Maintenance of range of motion
b. Alkalinize with NaHCO3, if myoglobinuria or important
hemoglobinuria present (ii) Daily whirlpool and exercise
3. Monitoring (d) Sympathectomy, anti-coagulants, and
a. CVP or pulmonary wedge pressure helpful since early amputation of questionable value
total capillary leak does not occur as it does in a in controlled studies
thermal burn ii. Usually wait until complete demarcation
b. Maintain urine output at 75-100cc/hr until all before proceeding with amputations. Non-
myoglobin and/or hemoglobin disappears from viable portions of extremities will often
urine autoamputate with good cosmetic and
4. Wound Management functional results.
a. Topical agent with good penetrating ability is B. Hypothermia
needed [i.e. silver sulfadiazine (Silvadene®) or 1. Diagnosis
mafenide acetate (Sulfamylon®)] a. Core temperature < 34˚C
b. Debride non-viable tissue early and repeat as b. Symptoms and signs mimic many other diseases
necessary (every 48 hrs) to prevent sepsis c. High level of suspicion necessary during cold
c. Major amputations frequently required injury season
d. Technicium-99 stannous pyrophosphate 2. Treatment
scintigraphy may be useful to evaluate muscle a. Must be rapid to prevent death
damage b. Monitor EKG, CVP, and arterial blood gases and
5. Treat associated injuries (e.g. fractures) pH during warming and resuscitation, maintain
urine output of 50cc/hr
IV. COLD INJURIES c. Begin Ringer’s Lactate with 1 ampule NaHCO3
The two conditions of thermal injury due to cold are local d. Oral airway or endotracheal tube if necessary
injury (frostbite) and systemic injury (hypothermia) e. Rapidly rewarm in 40˚ hydrotherapy tank
A. Frostbite (requires 1-2 hours to maintain body
1. Pathophysiology temperature at 37˚C)
a. Formation of ice crystals in tissue fluid f. Treat arrhythmias with IV Lidocaine drip if
i. Usually in areas which lose heat rapidly necessary
(e.g. extremities) g. Evaluate and treat any accompanying disease
b. Anything which increases heat loss from the states
body such as wind velocity, or decreases tissue
perfusion, such as tight clothing, predisposes
90 patient to frostbite 91
A. Cutaneous effects — lightning strikes may cause
cutaneous burn wounds
1. Contact burns from clothing on fire or contact with
hot metal (i.e. zippers)
2. Entry and exit burns are usually small, may be partial
or full thickness
3. Lightning burns are not the same as electrical burns
— don’t get deep tissue injury
B. May have temporary ischemic effects on extremity —
pallor or neurologic deficits. Spontaneous recovery after a
few hours is the rule — probably due to local
C. Systemic effects can occur such as arrhythmias, cataracts,
CNS symptoms

1. Gibran, N.S. and Heimbach, D.M. Current status of burn wound
pathophysiology. Clin Plast Surg. 2000; 27:11-22.
2. Matthews, M.S. and Fahey,A.L. Plastic surgical considerations in
lightning injuries. Ann Plast Surg. 1997; 39:561-5.
3. van Zuijlen, P.P. et al. Dermal substitution in acute burns and
reconstructive surgery: a subjective and objective long-term
follow-up. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2001; 108: 1938-46.