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Burn Center Frequently Asked Questions

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Experts in burn care from the UW Hospital and Clinics Burn Center help educate patients and their families and are here to answer your questions about burns, therapy and the healing process.
 
Frequently Asked Questions
 
What are the different types of burns and what do they mean?
 
There are three types of burns: first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. These are classified in ascending order, with first-degree burns being the least severe and third-degree being the most severe.
  • First-degree burns are the least severe type of burn because only the outer layer of the skin is damaged. As with sunburn, the skin turns red and may feel warm and painful. However, there are no blisters or open areas. First-degree burns can heal on their own without medical treatment. Recommended treatment methods are soaking the affected area in cool water (not ice water) for five minutes and covering with a clean bandage. Over-the-counter pain medications such as Ibuprofen may be used to relieve pain.
  • Second-degree burns are more severe, since they damage part of the inner layer of the skin as well as its outer layer. The burned area turns pink or red, is very moist and develops blisters. As with first-degree burns, this type of burn can usually heal on its own if it is not very deep. However, if the burn is deep, the healing skin will be more fragile and is likely to reopen. Skin grafting may be necessary for deep second-degree burns if (1) the burn takes a long time to heal, (2) severe scarring occurs, and/or (3) the burn reopens.
  • Third-degree burns are the most severe type, since they destroy both the outer and inner layers of the skin. The burn may appear white or leathery, and may not be painful. (Third-degree burns can sometimes destroy the pain-sensing cells in the skin.) Very small third-degree burns may heal on their own, but this process takes a very long time. Any third-degree burn larger than a fifty-cent piece must be grafted or it will not heal.

What is a skin graft? 

 

A skin graft is a thin layer of skin taken from one area of a person's body to cover another burned area of their skin. There are two kinds of skin grafts: sheet grafts and mesh grafts.

  • Sheet grafts are used to cover smaller burned areas, such as those on the face and hands. They are solid pieces of skin which are attached over the burn with staples or stitches. After the graft is attached, it will turn from white to bright pink in about five days. The pink color means that a new blood supply is forming in the grafted skin. As it heals, it will fade to match the rest of the skin.
  • Mesh grafts are used to cover larger areas of the body. The donor skin has been cut with a special tool to allow it to be spread over a larger area. A mesh graft has a diamond pattern and is attached over the burn with staples. A mesh graft will go through the same color changes as a sheet graft, and the diamond pattern will fade as the skin heals together.

What is a donor site? 

 

A donor site is the place on a person's body where the skin graft is taken from; hence, the skin used for the graft is called donor skin. False skin or skin from other people cannot be used because the body will reject this skin and it will not survive. Skin grafts must come from a person's own body. The most common donor sites are the buttocks and the inner thigh, which are cosmetically less important areas.

 

What is involved in getting a skin graft?

 

The doctor will use a tool called a dermatome to remove a thin layer of skin from the donor site. The harvested skin is then attached over the burned area with stitches or staples. Dressings are afterwards applied to both the graft and the donor site.

 

What is involved in the healing and therapy process?

 

After surgery, inpatients will be attended by members of the Burn Center team, including the doctor, nurses, physical and occupational therapists and nutritionists, who will facilitate the healing and therapy process. Upon release from the hospital, the patient will continue to be seen regularly in the Burn Clinic by the same staff members until the scar tissue is fully healed.

 

How long do grafts and donor sites take to heal?

 

Although the healing process may vary with each individual, skin grafts typically heal in about two weeks. Donor sites also usually heal in about two weeks, providing they do not become infected.

 

What can inpatients in the Burn Unit expect?

 

Inpatients in the Burn Unit usually begin the day with dressing changes in the morning followed by sessions of physical and/or occupational therapy, which last until about 1pm. Their dressings are changed again at about 8 or 9pm.

 

What are the Burn Unit's visiting hours?

 

The Burn Center's unit hours are 8-9am and noon-8pm.