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Children have a high risk of sustaining a burn injury due to their physiological, psychological, and developmental differences.
Burn injuries have a significant impact on paediatric patients and may affect a range of body systems. The impact of these injuries on children and families is often long lasting. As the injury itself and required treatment often causes distress, pain and anxiety, appropriate management by nurses is essential in providing family centered care.
Ongoing care requirements are based on the size, depth, anatomical site and mechanism of injury.
The aim of this clinical guideline is to assist and support nursing staff at The Royal Children’s Hospital to plan and deliver care to children with burn injuries, across all departments including: Emergency, Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Inpatient Units, Theatres and Outpatients.
Burn injuries cause a significant insult on the body and a thorough ABCD assessment, followed by a full head to toe and focused assessment are vital to ensure clinical issues/deterioration are identified early and appropriate management initiated.
Assessment of the pediatric patient with a burn injury should occur on admission, when the patient’s condition changes and regularly throughout care.
Detailed information regarding completion and documentation of ABCD, head to toe and focused assessments can be located on the
Nursing Assessment Clinical Guideline.
Burns specific information is outlined below.
Assessment and monitoring of airway patency and breathing should be carefully observed as patients at risk of inhalation burns can deteriorate up to 72 hours post burn injury, particularly if they have:
If inhalation burns are suspected high flow oxygen therapy via a Hudson mask should be administered to the patient and changes/abnormal findings reported to the treating team immediately for further assessment and management.
Children who sustain burns injuries are at increased risk of circulatory compromise due to significant fluid loss and fluid shifts, these patients must be closely monitored for:
Other circulatory concerns include:
Burn injuries are often associated with extreme amounts of pain and discomfort due to damaged/loss of skin coupled with widespread oedema.
A detailed pain assessment must be completed upon arrival to hospital and then continued at regular intervals (1-4 hourly minimum) throughout the patient’s admission, prior to/during procedures as well as during outpatient visits. Re-evaluation of pain, post pain management is vital to ensure analgesia is adequate.
Detailed information regarding paediatric pain assessment can be located on the
Pain Assessment Nursing Clinical Guideline. Information regarding procedural pain management can be located on the
Procedural Pain Management Clinical Guideline.
Assessment of the burn injury should occur on the initial presentation to the Royal Children’s Hospital as well as prior to completing wound care throughout the inpatient stay and outpatient visits. Burn injuries can take up to 10 days to truly present the depth and extent of injury so reassessment is vital. As burn injuries heal accurate wound assessment will ensure wound management is altered as needed to ensure appropriate wound care continues to be delivered to the patient.
Wound assessment of a burn injury includes (available on Electronic medical Records):
Accurate documentation of wound assessment should be recorded.
Further information regarding wound assessment in a burn injury can be located on the
Burns Clinical Practice Guideline as well as the
Burns Unit: Clinical Information.
Further information regarding wound assessment and healing can be located on the
Wound Care Clinical nursing guideline.
A thorough patient history should be collected on admission to hospital.
Specific information regarding the burn injury must be obtained from the patient, family and first responders as this will inform ongoing treatment. History taking should include:
In addition to this information a detailed patient and family history should also be obtained. Further information regarding this can be located on the
Nursing Assessment Nursing Clinical Guideline.
Non accidental injuries must be considered when the history does not match with the injury or inconsistencies with the history/story occur. Refer to medical staff & social work. Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service (VPFMS) can also be notified.
For further information regarding non accidental injuries refer to the
Child Abuse Clinical Guideline.
Burn injuries are traumatic and life altering events which can significantly impact the patient and their family. Early support from social work, contact with play therapists and chaplains should be offered to the child, siblings and family. It may also be appropriate to consider referrals to mental health/psychology.
For families from non-English speaking backgrounds
interpreters must be utilised throughout the admission and follow up.
Families who have traveled over 100km to reach the hospital should be given
Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme (VPTAS) forms.
Completion of first aid for a child who has sustained a burn injury is an important initial aspect of care as it assists with pain relief as well as minimising the progression of tissue damage. First aid is effective for up to three hours post time of injury. If appropriate first aid was not initiated and it is still within the 3 hour time frame post burn injury, first aid should be completed as outlined below, prior to any wound care:
Further information regarding burn injury first aid including burns to the eye area and chemical burns can be found on the
Burns Clinical Practice Guideline.
Burn injuries greater than 10% TBSA and including the dermis result in circulatory compromise secondary to fluid loss via damaged tissue, widespread vasodilation as well as increase capillary permeability and fluid shifts (third spacing). This can result in hypovolemia leading to burns shock. Therefore it is vital that adequate fluid is administered to the patient in combination with ongoing circulatory and fluid balance assessment.
Burn pain can be extremely intense and distressing for paediatric patients and can also be challenging to manage due to the individual experience and its unique characteristics.
Burn pain experienced by patients is likely to increase during procedures such as dressing changes. Management of pain during burn dressing changes is discussed in detail below (
preparing for a dressing change).
Once dressings have been applied and wound healing is progressing, patients are more comfortable and may require less analgesia.
Burn dressing changes can produce feelings of anxiety and distress in both patients and their families. It is very important that both patients and families are physically and emotionally prepared and well informed regarding the procedure and the pain management options.
For further information, staff and families can access reducing children’s discomfort during tests and procedures
kids health info factsheet.
Children who are planned to undergo a burns dressing change should have an ABCD assessment completed along with pain assessment prior to the dressing change commencing. This will assist the nurse in ensuring appropriate pre-emptive analgesia is selected for the patient (
ABCD / Pain assessment above).
The child will require continuous ABCD monitoring and pain assessment throughout the procedure to ensure that analgesics provide are adequate and effective.
The child’s personal hygiene requirements should also be assessed at this time as this will assist the nurse in identifying children who should be bathed (bath/shower) prior to having a new dressing applied.
Children who may require bathing (bath/shower) include those with large % TBSA burns, those whose dressing prevent them from bathing/showering on a daily basis and may be age dependent.
Burns dressing changes can be painful and distressing for children, it is an individual experience, however burns with larger % TBSA, those that contain partial thickness burns and any that require extensive debridement are likely to be more painful.
Nursing staff should
assess the child’s pain prior to the procedure commencing and pre-emptive analgesia should be administered. Staff should re-evaluate the effectiveness prior to the procedure commencing and throughout the procedure.
Choice of analgesia is an individual process and staff should take into account the % TBSA, depth, amount of debridement required as well as the pain tolerance, distress and past experience of the child. Review of analgesia/sedation requirements for previous dressing changes is essential.
The Children’s Pain Management Service (CPMS) may also be utilised to assist in
planning procedural pain relief for burns dressing changes.
Options may include:
A combination of the above options may be ordered and utilised to provide pain relief. Note for patients receiving an anaesthetic or Nitrous Oxide the need for administration of medications with analgesic effects should be considered to assist in pain management post burn dressing change. Further information regarding this can be located on the
Procedural Sedation – ward and ambulatory care procedure or through consultation with CPMS or comfort kids.
Pain Assessment should occur continuously throughout the procedure by observing the behaviour and comfort level of the child as well as using an appropriate pain assessment scale.
If analgesia and sedative agents prescribed are not providing effective pain management/sedation then the procedure should be paused until appropriate analgesia/sedation is available and pain is manageable. Escalation to the children’s pain management service on pager 5773 or Burns resident on pager 4021 can occur at any stage throughout the procedure.
As the patient’s burn injury heals, analgesia and sedative agents utilised throughout the procedure should start to be slowly weaned with the support of CPMS, medical teams and senior nursing staff.
All sedative agents should be administered in line with the
Sedation and Procedural Sedation Ward and Ambulatory Areas procedure.
To complete a burns dressing change in a safe and time efficient manner which minimises patient and family distress, staffing requirements must be considered.
Additionally allocating the role of distraction and non-pharmacological pain management techniques should be considered and assigned to either a parent, play therapist or additional staff member as appropriate.
All roles must be designated prior to commencement of dressing change and the patient should remain in line of sight to staff at all times. For further information refer to the
Sedation and Procedural Sedation Guideline Ward and Ambulatory Care Areas procedure.
Burn injuries which have a large TBSA percentage and patients with reduced mobility may require increased staff numbers to assist in dressing changes. For further information refer to the
High Dependency and Special Nursing Care nursing guideline.
Prior to the procedure a team leader should be allocated. Other team member’s roles/responsibilities ie. Dressings nurse, sedationist, observations nurse, hygiene nurses should also be communicated.
An ISBAR handover should also occur; identifying patient name, age, weight, allergies, procedure, any pre procedure medication and staff roles.
Staff should adhere to the
aseptic technique procedure for all aspects of wound care outlined below.
Removal of the previous dressing should not damage the healing burn wound and should be as atraumatic as possible. The use of an adhesive remover, normal saline or water will assist with gentle removal of previous dressings.
Clean the wound using a soft wipe with water, normal saline, pH neutral soap or cetrimide (please note cetrimide is not to be used on face or scalp). Enough pressure should be applied to debride the damaged skin and remove exudate, loose skin and slough.
Consider the need for a
wound swab and complete if necessary.
Debridement of any blisters present allows for wound bed assessment and appropriate dressing application.
The wound and surrounding skin should be dry before application of the dressing. If the patient has had a bath, pat dry the surrounding skin with clean towels or gauze. Cling wrap could also be utilised to protect the burn if there is an anticipated delay in application of new dressing.
Ensure the patient’s personal hygiene is thoroughly attended to if the burns dressing change is occurring in the bath or shower. If the patient is not having a bath use a sponge to clean non dressed areas.
- Moisten Acticoat ™ with sterile water, not saline, to activate
- Wring out excess water from Acticoat ™ using forceps. Silver or blue side to wound.
- Cover Acticoat ™ with Intrasite Conformable ™
- Cover the 2 layers with cling wrap and cut to appropriate size, ensuring no overlap of cling wrap on healthy skin.
- Apply dressing to wound
- Secure with tape e.g. Hypafix ™ or Mefix ™
- Reinforce dressing with crepe and tubifast.
- Please review the Burns Unit: Clinical Information for pictures of an Acticoat™ dressing (hyperlink).
- Use in conjunction with gauze.
- Secure with tape e.g. Hypafix ™ or Mefix ™ or tubifast.
- Kenacomb™ ointment may be applied prior to xeroform™ to areas of hyper granulation.
- Use in conjunction with Melolin™
Additional products may be utilised on burns wounds at the discretion of medical and nursing staff.
For further information regarding the above and additional products please refer to the
wound care guideline.
Facial burns may require regular wound care including cleansing followed by application of paraffin cream. Parents should be encouraged to be involved in providing this care.
If dressings are utilised on the face balaclavas can be made from tubifast and used to secure dressing products.
Additional information can be located on the
Burns Medical Treatment.
Any dressing applied to fingers, should ensure fingers are taped individually. Initially fingers which have circumferential burns should be dressed with the finger tips exposed to monitor neurovascular status. Once oedema has decreased the finger tips can be enclosed in the dressing.
Referral to hand therapy is vital.
A summary post dressing change should be documented including: pain relief/ sedation and effect, non-pharmacological techniques and effect, parental involvement, wound assessment, dressing product utilised, staff present (including allied health, interpreter etc.) and plan of ongoing care. See
Nursing Documentation Clinical Guideline for further information.
Nutrition plays a vital role in burn healing, minimising complications of care and meeting the increased metabolic demands associated with paediatric patients with burns. A diet high in protein, calcium, energy and micronutrients (in particular Zinc and Vitamin C) has been shown to be most beneficial for wound
healing. Children should be encouraged to eat and drink foods high in these nutrients and nutritional supplements such as Sustagen™ may also be required.
Insertion of a nasogastric tube and commencement of enteral feeds should be considered for children who sustain significant burn injuries and/or facial burns and are unable to tolerate adequate oral intake. Where possible feeds should commence within 6 - 8 hours of the burn injury.
Referral to the Burns Team Dietician is recommended for all patients with significant burn injuries, facial burns, infants as well as patients who are not tolerating adequate oral intake.
Children with significant burn injuries are at risk of acute gastric ulceration and a H2 antagonist should be considered for these patients.
Itching is a common and debilitating issue in the healing phase of a burn injury.
The following may assist in reducing itch:
- Advise child and parent to avoid scratching - short finger nails will assist in this.
- Consider use of antihistamines i.e. Periactin or Certizdine
- Avoid overheating the child
- Fragrance free moisturiser (Sorbolene™) may assist.
- Distraction will play a big role in patient comfort
- Massage with the use of oatmeal containing product
Strategies to reduce scar development post burn injury include:
Physiotherapy (PT) and Occupational therapy (OT) may be necessary throughout both inpatient stay and outpatient management for patients who have sustained a burn injury.
Significant burn wounds and those over joints are at high risk of contracture development. This can have an impact on both growth and mobility. Prevention of contractures needs to occur early and to assist in this PT and OT will prescribe patients with a splinting and positioning regime. To aid PT/OT in assessing the patient’s burn injury and range of movement it is often beneficial for them to attend changes of dressings.
It is vital that these regimes are adhered to by nursing staff. Paediatric patients may find the splints and positioning regimes uncomfortable and distressing. It is important to educate both patient and family that the position of comfort is likely to result in contractures. Strategies to support splinting and positioning regimes include:
Concerns regarding splinting and positioning regimes should be documented and reported back to PT/OT so as appropriate alterations to regimes can be initiated.
The decision for a patient to be discharged should have involvement from the burns multidisciplinary team and family meetings may be beneficial for planning purposes. Early discussion regarding discharge may facilitate a smoother transition home for the family.
Children may be ready for discharge when:
The following should be discussed with the family and child prior to discharge
The evidence table for this nursing guideline can be found here.
1. Australian New Zealand Burn Association. (2015). Retrieved August 3rd 2015, from
2. Bonham, A. (1996) Managing procedural pain in children with burns. Part 1: Assessment of pain in children. International journal of trauma nursing, 2
3. Bonham, A. (1996) Procedural pain in children with burns. Part 2: Nursing management of children in pain. International journal of trauma nursing, 2 (3), 74-77.
4. Clifton, L., Chong, L. & Stewart, K. (2015). Identification of factors that predict outpatient utilisation of a plastic dressing clinic. A retrospective review of 287 paediatric burn cases. Burns, 41, 469-475.
5. Holland, Carolyn & A. DiGiulio, Gregg & A. Gonzalez del Rey, Javier. (2012). Wound Care and the Pediatric Patient. 10.1016/B978-0-323-07418-6.00005-8. Langschmidt, J., Caine, P., Wearn, C., Bamford, A., Wilson, Y. & Moieman, N. (2014). Hydrotherapy in burn care: A survey of
hydrotherapy practices in the UK and Ireland and literature review. Burns, 40, 860-864.
6. Liao, A., Andreson, D., Martin, H., Harvey, J. & Holland, A. (2013). The infection risk of plastic wrap as an acute burns dressing. Burns.
7. McGarry, S., Elliott, C., McDonald, A., Valentine, J., Wood, F. & Girdler, S. (2014). Paediatric burns: From the voice of the child. Burns, 40, 606-615.
8. Selig, H., Lumenta, D., Giretzlehner, M., Jeschke, M., Upton, D. & Kamolz. (2012). The properties of an “ideal: burn wound dressing- What do we need in daily clinical practice? Results of a worldwide online survey among burn care specialists. Burns,
9. Victorian Burns Unit. (2012). Burns Management Guideline. Retrieved August 3rd 2015, from
Please remember to read the
The development of this nursing guideline was coordinated by Kate Glassford, Nurse Coordinator & Clinical Nurse Specialist Platypus Ward, and approved by the Nursing Clinical Effectiveness Committee. Updated December 2018.