Unlike a first- or second-degree burn that can heal in as little as a few weeks, a third-degree burn can require months of follow-up treatment. Below, we detail the treatment of 3rd degree burns as well as how to cover your burn and prevent scarring and infection.
How do medical professionals treat third-degree burns?
Emergency medical attention is necessary for third-degree burns treatment. To treat your burn, professionals will do the following:
Clean and Dress Wound
At the emergency room or burn center, medical personnel will clean the wound. During the cleaning, they will also:
- Remove all surface contaminants
- Remove any items, such as clothing or jewelry, stuck to the wound
After cleaning, the team will make a determination as to whether to apply any ointment or dressings to the surface of the wound. At this time, the team will also debride the wound (i.e., remove dead tissue to promote the growth of healthy tissue).
When your burn team initially cleans your wound, it will make every effort to find and remove all foreign material to prevent infection. Your team might also prescribe you antibiotics via IV, in pill form, or topically. The team will change your dressings and clean your wound twice a day.
What should I expect in the days following my third-degree burn?
With a third-degree burn, you can expect to spend quite some time in the hospital. During this time, your burn might require one or more of the following:
When you have suffered a third-degree burn, also called a full thickness burn, all the layers of your skin — the epidermis (i.e., the outer layer of skin), the dermis (i.e., the deeper layer of skin, and the subcutaneous tissue (i.e., the layer of tissue below the dermis) — sustain damage.
As a result, your skin might not be able to heal itself. In these situations, your doctor may decide to use skin grafts. Skin grafts involve harvesting skin from an undamaged area of your body and surgically placing it on top of your burn-damaged tissue.
Doctors use splints both to prevent and to correct problems. Splints can hold a part of the body in one position to prevent damage to a skin graft, and to prevent skin from contracting during the healing process. If range of motion has been lost or reduced during the healing process, splints help regain range of motion, thereby correcting the problem.
There are two primary types of surgical intervention used to treat burn injuries: acute and reconstructive.
Acute burn surgery is any surgery done immediately after the injury to address the trauma and stabilize the patient.
Reconstructive burn surgery takes place after the burn has partially or completely healed. There are multiple reasons to do reconstructive burn surgery.
Children who are still growing may need multiple reconstructive surgeries over a period of many years to treat scar contractures. In adults and children, reconstructive burn surgery can restore function when contractures are interfering with range of motion. Reconstructive burn surgery can also help make some burn scars less noticeable, especially on the face.
How can I prevent scarring?
There is likely to be some amount of scarring with a third-degree burn, but you may be able to prevent severe scarring by using the following:
Pressure garments, snug-fitting elastic garments, help minimize or prevent hypertrophic scar tissue (e.g., raised, uneven scar tissue).
Because pressure garments flatten and soften scar tissue, the scar tissue is less noticeable. Burn victims wear pressure garments about 23 hours a day, for a period of several months to a couple years. These garments can be ready-made or custom-fitted. They will stretch out over time, and thereby lose effectiveness. For this reason, they need replacement every two or three months.
Although the medical profession does not yet completely understand the exact way in which silicone sheets work, research, such as the studies mentioned in a 2015 article in Advances in Wound Care, has shown that silicone sheets are effective in promoting healing of burned tissue.
Silicone sheets are topical dressings infused with silicone gel. You wear the sheet, placed directly on your wound, 24 hours a day.
Physical Therapy and Exercise
Patients with third-degree burns are at great risk of losing function and mobility. For this reason, it is important to begin recuperation from day one.
Your treatment team will try to get you up and moving as soon as it is appropriate for you to do so. The team will work to keep your skin, muscles, and joints flexible. If you are immobilized for too long, scar tissue can harden and make it difficult, if not impossible, for tendons to glide and for joints to bend.
Your treatment team will also develop a physical therapy plan for you. This may include multiple therapists who will work on different aspects of your function and mobility. You may also need physical therapy and an exercise plan to rebuild your strength after a prolonged period of convalescence.
Massage can optimize the healing of burned tissue. When tissue has been damaged by burn injury, it tends to retain excess amounts of fluids. Massage therapy will help knead this excess fluid retention out of the tissue. Damaged tissue also has difficulty retaining proper moisture levels. Moisturizers can be worked into the tissue through massage. Proper moisture levels will boost the healing process.
Your burn team will also give you information about how to care for your 3rd degree burn once you leave the hospital.
How can I pay for my treatment?
Third-degree burn treatment can quickly get into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have suffered a third-degree burn that was not your fault, you may have a claim. Talk with our lawyer referral specialists to get connected to a lawyer who can help you: 844-549-8774.