Daily life with a burn

Many of the people we talked to described impacts on their everyday lives from having a burn. Some were short-term issues, but there could also be longer-term impacts.

This section covers:

  • Ongoing challenges
  • Day-day problems, such as getting ready and sleeping
  • Issues with skin, such as itching, and using moisturisers
  • Mobility, flexibility, and movement
  • Coping with sun and temperature changes

Ongoing challenges

In the first few weeks or months after having a burn, impacts on daily life included going to medical appointments, having initial treatments, restrictions on mobility from bandages and wounds, and pain making it difficult to sleep.

Amy and Chris highlighted “the logistics of everything” they had to consider when their son was first burnt and discharged from hospital, including the longer term impacts.

For everyone that we spoke to, the burns had been sustained at least one year before the interview. Some people had lived with a burn for a long time, like Mercy, whose burn happened 25 years earlier. As the burn healed, the impacts on everyday life eased off for some people. Sabrina summed up her experience as “a big event that impacted me [then] that doesn’t really have an impact now”. However, most people we talked to continued to experience some day-day impact (such as chronic pain) and had, as Mercy explained, “learnt ways of how to manage it… with time”.

Day-day problems, such as getting ready and sleeping

Some of the people we spoke to expressed how getting ready for work, school, or college took longer because they have to take extra steps, such as applying moisturising creams or sun lotion.

Raiche said that having burns means it takes longer to get ready in the morning.

The extra time involved could be off-putting. Raffaella hasn’t been back to the gym since her burn because it now required more planning: “just the thought of like ‘Oh, when do I remove my gloves, when do I wash, when do I put the silicone [on]?” Tara once used camouflage makeup for a special occasion but thinks she would find it “stressful” applying the makeup more often because of the time it takes and decided that it wasn’t the right choice for her. However, some people find camouflage makeup very helpful and can become more confident using it, over time.

Struggling to sleep well was sometimes an issue too. A few people, like Jeff and Raffaella, would sometimes have dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks about the burn. Raffaella told us that, early on in her recovery, she had flashbacks to being burnt “every time she drifted off”. Some people commented that their sleep was impacted by pain or discomfort.

Sarah has struggled to sleep since she was burnt and continuously wakes in the night, which has a “knock-on effect” into her everyday life.

Issues with skin, such as itching, and using moisturisers

It is common for people who have been burnt to experience problems with their skin, such as feeling itchy and cuts being slower to heal on the burn area. Helen X, Saffron and Mercy told us that skin grafts could be particularly itchy. Marilyn disliked anything bumping against her burn scars as the skin feels very sensitive.

Sometimes burn injuries can cause skin to feel itchy because the glands in the skin have been damaged and this can lead to a sensation of itching. As Charlotte recalled, “anyone that’s had burns will know the itch, and we call it itching because that’s what it is, but it’s such an intense thing”. The part of the body where skin is taken for a skin graft was also itchy for some of the people we spoke to.

For some of the people we talked to, there were additional things that made their skin more sensitive or uncomfortable. Washing up would sometimes irritate Tom’s hands and make them dry. Saffron told us that using a different washing powder for her clothes had caused her skin to itch. Sinead’s daughter developed eczema on top of her burn scars which has been “quite troublesome”.

Kate finds it annoying when her burn scars itch.

To help with the itching and dryness, many people used emollients, creams, lotions, and moisturisers. Some of the people we spoke to had had reactions to shop-bought products and were worried about additives in them. Helen X told us that as well as using a cream, she sometimes also used a moisturising shower gel in the morning and a body lotion in the evening.

As well as the creams etc themselves, the process of rubbing and massaging the cream into the scarring was important for people like India and Helen Y. Even though Saffron said it “took me a while to accept” that applying creams “was going to be a part of my daily routine”, she feels it’s important: “that really helps again with the tightness, different areas of tightness and flexibility, and also the appearance”.

Sinead’s daughter, Elizabeth, has moisturiser and other creams applied to her skin multiple times a day.

Although those who used creams said this helped with feelings of discomfort, some said that they took a long time to apply and, as a result, they were “more time poor”.

Jasmine spent a lot of time applying moisturiser to her daughter’s burns.

Some people said they sometimes found it difficult to moisturise their scars as often as they felt they should. Gary said, “I do try to cream at least once a day but, again, it’s like I should be creaming at least two to three times a day with the extent of my scars”. Raiche told us that another downside of using moisturisers and other creams is that they had sometimes ruined clothes by leaving stains.

Mobility, flexibility, and movement

Sometimes, depending on the part of the body affected by the burn, a burn injury can cause issues with flexibility, mobility and movement. In the early days, this may be because of bulky dressings, bandages and pain. As the wounds heal, difficulties with moving may be caused by scar contracture, which is when scar tissue thickens and tightens over time.

India has some mobility issues where her scarring is quite tight.

As well as some people recommending massaging in creams, Saffron had found gentle exercise useful: “I do a lot of yoga because I find that it helps with the muscle underneath the scar and actually stretching… so that the skin can then also move with that muscle”. For others, like Raiche, surgery helped relieve some of the tightness of the skin, whereas before she wasn’t able to close her eyes and was “always dribbling”.

Raffaella exercised her hand as the burn healed. She also used creams, massaged the skin, and tried other things like acupuncture and vitamins.

There were additional issues facing those who had lost a part of their body because of burns. Some now used prostheses, walking aids, a wheelchair or prosthetic limbs.

Gary had his lower leg amputated as a result of the burn and now uses an artificial leg.

Raiche found that her balance was affected because she is missing one ear and the toes on one foot. She also found it difficult finding suitable shoes.

Coping with sun and temperature changes

People spoke about how direct sunlight can be very damaging to burnt skin because the skin is already so sensitive. Jeff said that if his scars get sunburnt, he feels like they are “burning” again, and this makes travelling abroad difficult.

For this reason, using sun cream was an important topic for the people we talked to. Jessica told us that she applies sun cream to her daughter’s skin all year round to avoid sunburn.

Saffron uses Factor 50 SPF sun cream and tries to keep her burn covered. This way, she can still enjoy going to the beach.

Sinead told us she is very cautious of her daughter spending time in direct sunlight.

However, using sun cream was not always straightforward. Sunny weather is the “bane” of Tara’s life and she is “yet to find” a sun cream which doesn’t cause her problems. Marilyn worried that some of the chemicals in sun cream might irritate her burn scars.

As well as using sun cream, some people said they tried to avoid being out in the sun or to cover up as best as they could. For Sabrina, this meant not holidaying in sunny places for the first few years after being burnt. Gary said he always has to wear a hat. Jessica usually dresses her daughter in long-sleeved tops to further avoid the risk of direct sunlight. Holly, whose son was burnt, told us that he wears a full-coverage swimming costume to cover his burn and avoid sun damage.

Some people do not sweat from the area where they have been burnt because the skin and sweat glands have been damaged and this can sometimes be an issue. Tara said this can cause her to “overheat” because her body cannot self-regulate temperature. For this reason, warmer temperatures can be particularly difficult.

Tara finds hot weather and exercising “stressful” because her scars don’t sweat.

Kate said that changes in temperature can cause her scars to itch.

Burn injuries can also cause discomfort when the weather is cold. Tara said that “when it gets very cold, my scars tighten up. I notice that more with my hand, my hand just kind of freezes up in like a claw position”. Raiche said that, in colder weather, her feet go “numb” and she “can’t actually feel them”. This would sometimes cause her feet to get “really sore” or rub against her boots, which damaged her skin. As well as struggling to cool down when she is hot, Saffron finds it difficult to warm up when she is cold.

In addition to the practical impacts of burn injuries on everyday life, emotional impacts and the influence on body image were also important for the people we talked to.

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