Burn survivors require very specific care to ensure their skin heals properly with minimal scarring. While medical professionals will play a huge role in the recovery process, survivors themselves will also need to practice self-care for optimal outcomes. Here, the victim advocates at Azrael, Franz, Schwab & Lipowitz detail self-care methods survivors should utilize after a major burn injury.
Consult a Burn Specialist
A burn specialist is a medical professional who specializes in the care and treatment of burns. A list of medical centers that specialize in burn care can be found here. Due to the delicate and complex nature of burn care, a burn specialist should always be consulted when attempting self-care for burn injuries.
Understand How Scars Form
One of the biggest concerns burn victims have is about scarring, which occurs when the dermal or lower layer of the skin becomes damaged. A victim’s likelihood to develop scarring depends on several factors, including their age and ethnic background, as well as the severity, location and depth of the burn. Scarring will form a few months after a burn injury is sustained, and the severity of the scarring will peak at six months. Within 12 to 18 months, the scars will “resolve,” and as the scars continue to mature, they will become flatter, softer and less sensitive to touch. Once scars have resolved, regular massage and stretching may help to make them looser, softer and more comfortable. A physical therapist who specializes in scarring should be able to provide appropriate massage and stretching techniques.
Burns can damage the body’s naturally present oil glands, which help keep the skin from becoming too dry. An individual who suffers a partial thickness burn may only have a few oil glands remaining in the affected area, and an individual who suffers a full thickness burn, or who required a skin graft, will have no naturally present oil glands left in the affected area. This often leads to dry and itchy scars, and studies have shown that larger burn areas increase the likelihood of itchiness.
To minimize itchiness, regularly moisturize scars with a doctor-approved moisturizer. Moisturizer should be applied throughout the day in thin layers and should be massaged in gently when scars are still new. As scars mature, pressure can be increased—this will also help to loosen the scar tissue and promote circulation. Avoid perfumed lotions or soaking in hot baths, as this will increase the dryness of the skin and cause skin to feel itchier.
In cases of severe itching, a doctor may prescribe pressure garments, as well as topical or oral antihistamines. Be sure to follow your doctor’s directions when taking antihistamines.
Limit Sun Exposure
Scars that are discolored and that have not matured are extremely sensitive to sunlight, and burn victims should take caution when spending time in the sun. Try to limit sun exposure between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, which are the hottest parts of the day, and use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 or protective clothing, such as gloves, long sleeves or pants and a hat.
Avoid Additional Damage or Injury
Because scar tissue is new skin, it is very delicate and prone to damage or injury. Burn victims should take care to avoid activities that cause bumping or rubbing against the scar tissue. Tight or constrictive clothing may also cause damage to scar tissue. Check your scars frequently for signs of damage and take care when putting on or removing clothing. If blisters form, they should be pierced with a sterile needle, drained and covered with a light layer of antibiotic ointment. If a skin tear occurs, apply pressure to the wound until any bleeding stops, then wash the area with warm water and soap and apply a non-stick dressing and light layer of antibiotic ointment. If a blistered or torn area becomes warm and red, it may be infected—speak to your doctor immediately if this occurs.
Ulcerations are also common, especially in burns that span across the shoulders, knees or elbows. Ulcerations in these areas can be difficult to heal because these areas are constantly used, causing the ulceration to open or enlarge. They should be covered with a thin layer of antibiotic ointment, especially during exercise, and if an ulceration fails to heal, your doctor may apply a splint of a cast to the wound so the area can be held still.
Speak to a Victim Advocate if You Have Been Injured Due to Another’s Negligence
Burns are serious injuries that require expert medical treatment and extensive care to ensure they heal properly. If your burn injuries occurred due to the negligence of another individual, you may be entitled to financial compensation. To learn more about your legal options after a serious injury, contact the victim advocates at Azrael, Franz, Schwab & Lipowitz.