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Advances in Burn Care

Advances in Burn Care

Over the last 50 years, medical science has made huge strides in the treatment of burn injuries. For example, in the 1960s, the survival rate of children with burns covering 40% of their body was about 50%. Today, the lethal burn size for 50% of children exceeds 95% of their total body area.

This section will provide some examples of the advances that medical science has made with burn care. It will also discuss some techniques that may be used in the near future. Due to the fact that there have been so many advances, this section is by no means exhaustive. It is, however, an impressive example of humans becoming much better at healing themselves.

Early Excision

Excision is the process of removing the burned, necrotic tissue from a patient’s burn.

Although medical professionals recognized the benefits of excising the burned tissue and closing the wound as soon as possible in the late 1940s, the practice was not practical until the 1970s because of high rates of infection and wound failure.

Early excision improves survival rates, shortens hospital stays, and can lead to better long-term function. It is now the standard method for treating all burns.

Wound Treatment

Up until the early 1980s, skin grafts were the most common method of treating wounds. Artificial skin grafts are now commonly used in place of actual skin tissue.

These grafts generally use a collagen scaffold to cover the affected area. They are often seeded with a patient’s own skin cells. The scaffolding touches the healthy skin surrounding the wound, encouraging it to grow more quickly.

Fluid Replacement

The proper fluid mixture for fluid replacement in adults has been known for some time. The proper mixture for children, however, was not fully developed until the early 1980s.

Further, modern developments have seen adjustments to the fluid regiment based on not only the size and depth of the injury, but also the other injuries suffered concurrently with the burn, including smoke inhalation.

Finally, modern research has conclusively shown that outcomes—survival, permanent injury, and recovery—improve if fluid replacement occurs quickly after the injury.

Infection Control

Infections are one of the main causes of death from a burn injury. Early excision and grafting have had a dramatic effect on lowering the occurrence of infections, but other developments have also had an influence on improvements in infection control.

Antimicrobial ointments are used to kill possible infections before they have a chance to develop. The use of baths, once a daily staple to treat burn injuries, has declined because medical professionals realized that the baths allow patients to sit in dangerous bacteria. Instead, dressings are now generally changed on tables, where wounds can be cleaned and antimicrobial agents can be applied in an area that drains well.

Infection prevention has also been aided by the development of other methods of that prevent infection, including dressings that can remain on the burn for up to a week at a time.


Metabolism and Nutrition

Another area where medical science has made huge strides is ensuring that burn patients remain otherwise healthy. Burn injuries place the rest of the body under great stress. The heart rate elevates. More catecholamines—like dopamine and epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline)—are released, causing the body to work harder.

This increases the patient’s metabolism in ways that can require special diets to ensure that burn patients receive the type of nutrition that will encourage healing without causing weight gains or other stresses on the body.

The Cutting Edge: Artificial Skin

Although huge strides have already been made in developing artificial skins, medical researchers continue to investigate other methods to protect those that suffer severe burns. Stem cells have shown promise in clinical trials. Researchers are investigating artificial skins that could remain on a patient permanently or could be sprayed on quickly after the injury occurs.

The Cutting Edge: Gene Therapy

Gene therapy may soon be used to encourage dermal and epidermal regeneration. Certain gene constructs encourage cells to release growth factors that improve the healing process. Gene therapy may also be helpful in healing other organs affected by a burn injury.

The Cutting Edge: Skin Banks

Today, skin banks are used to store the skin of cadavers and patients for use in later skin grafts. In the future, they may do much more. Researchers are working on methods for growing skin from cells harvested from burn patients themselves. In the future, skin grafting techniques may see a patient receiving grafts of his or her own skin without having it removed from other areas of the body.

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Chuck Slaughter


Types of Burns

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Degrees of Burns

First , second , and third degree burns

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Burn Injuries

There are many types of burn injuries

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Scald Burn Injury

Caused when very hot liquids come into contact with skin

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Electrical Burns

Electricity can burn the skin and is capable of causing internal damage

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Chemical Burns

Caused when a strong acid or base comes into direct contact with skin

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Car/Boating Accidents

Thermal burns can occur if the car catches fire or explodes

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Gas Explosions

Caused when a gas leak combines with an ignition source

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Worker’s Compensation

If you've been burned on the job, you may need legal guidance

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E-Cigarette Burns

Can be caused by defective batteries or overheated vapor

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