Dressing changes, cleaning burn wounds, debridement, and treating infections

This section covers:

  • Dressing changes
  • Cleaning the burn and debridement (removing damaged skin)
  • Experiences of infected burns

Wound care is very important after a burn. All of the people we spoke to had experienced their burns being cleaned and having dressings changed. Some people also spoke about debridement – a process in which unhealthy or dead skin is removed from the burn to reduce the risk of infection and to encourage the wound to heal. A few people had developed infections in their burns which often required extra treatment like antibiotics.

A burns surgeon explains why people with a burn sometimes need to wear dressings and why it’s important for them to be changed regularly.

Dressing changes

A sterile dressing is usually applied to a burn to stop germs from infecting the wound and to protect the surface of the burn. There are different types of dressings used in burn care. Sometimes dressings that contain silver, seaweed, or honey are used by doctors and nurses to help the burn heal. For those who had skin grafts, dressings were also needed for the wound area where the replacement skin had been taken from.

After some initial dressing changes by a nurse, Frazer learnt how to do it at home. His mum helped at first, but he also saw it was part of a “transition period” of “being responsible”.

Marilyn went “back and forth” to hospital for dressing changes twice a week for three months, but found it was better than when she and her husband had tried to do these at home.

Most people we spoke to had their dressing changes done by nurses, either at hospital or at home. With time and support, some went on to learn how to do their own dressing changes by themselves with support of their family.

How long a person needs a dressing, and how many dressing changes they have, will vary depending on the size and severity of the burn. Some people we spoke to needed dressing changes twice a day, whereas other people had their dressings changed once a week.

As the burn heals, the frequency of dressing changes usually reduces. Sarah needed her dressings changed every 48 hours at the beginning of her recovery; she would “almost look forward to it” because “then it was done for two days” and she could see how much her burns had healed each time.

Sarah liked to see how much her burns had healed each time her dressings were changed.

Many people referred to dressing changes as the worst part of recovering from a burn injury. Tom said that sometimes his dressing would stick to his burn and this “really hurt” when nurses were trying to change his dressings. When Helen X told us about her experience, she said that dressing changes for the area where her skin graft was taken from was “the most painful thing”.

Charlotte found dressing changes to be very traumatic.

Mercy would sometimes pretend to be asleep to delay having her dressings changed.

Pain relief will sometimes be given during a dressing change. Rhian told us she was given gas and air to help her manage the pain of having her burns cleaned and redressed after developing an infection.

Parents of children with burns found it incredibly difficult to watch as their child’s dressings were changed. Some of the parents referred to witnessing dressing changes as “painful” and “upsetting”. Lily told us that her son’s dressing changes were “the most painful moment for both of us”. You can read more here about experiences of looking after a child with a burn.

Abi said that watching her son’s dressing changes was “the hardest part of the whole thing apart from the incident itself”.

Cleaning the burn and debridement

After someone is burnt, it is important to keep the wound clean to prevent infections and to encourage the skin to heal. Cleaning a burn may involve using a sterile gauze or cloth and an antibacterial solution. Sometimes, doctors and nurses may also debride the burn (remove unhealthy or dead skin). Helen X recalled nurses used tweezers to remove dead skin from her burn.

Lily did her best to stay calm and reassuring as her son had his burns cleaned at hospital.

Some of the people we spoke to told us that blisters formed on their burn. Sometimes blisters ooze liquid when they are cleaned. A blister formed on Frazer’s wrist after he was burnt which a nurse “wiped” off. Frazer said this process was “disgusting” but that his burn “didn’t look as ugly” underneath.

Amy said that witnessing her son’s burns being debrided was “traumatic”.

Although Marilyn found having her burns cleaned to be a “pain”, she told us that the doctors and nurses were “so gentle” and “caring” with her.

Experiences of infected burns

A burns surgeon explains why people with a burn sometimes need to wear dressings and why it’s important for them to be changed regularly.

In some cases, a burn can become infected. An infection can happen if bacteria gets into the wound. A person who has been burnt is also at an increased risk of developing infections because their immune system is weaker than usual whilst focused on helping the burn to heal.

Jessica’s daughter picked up an infection whilst she was being treated in hospital.

For the people we talked to, some of the signs of infection included a high temperature, being sick, and a spreading red rash. Antibiotics are usually required to treat infections like these. Rhian’s and Jessica’s daughters were connected to an intravenous (IV) line, where a soft tube is inserted into the vein and antibiotics were administered directly into their veins. Others had antibiotic injections or took antibiotic tablets.

Chris Y’s son, William, had silver dressings to help his infected burn to heal.

Rhian started to feel unwell and the area surrounding her burn was red. She went to the hospital where she was told her burn was infected.

We’d love to hear your feedback about this site. Please let us know your thoughts here.

How the burn injury happened

This section covers: Circumstances of a burn Remembering what happened Talking to others about how the burn injury happened Triggering Content This website includes people...