Burns and scalds can be painful and traumatic injuries, and they can also lead to a range of complications that can be both physically and emotionally distressing. From shock, heat exhaustion, infections and scarring to hypothermia and respiratory complications, there are many potential complications that can arise from a burn or scald injury.It’s important to note that burns and scalds can vary widely in their severity, and some complications are more likely to occur with more severe injuries. However, even minor burns and scalds can cause discomfort and require proper care to promote healing and prevent complications. By understanding the potential complications of burns and scalds, you can be better prepared to care for yourself or a loved one in the event of an injury. With prompt medical attention and proper wound care, many complications can be prevented or successfully managed. 

Shock Complications

After a serious injury, it’s possible to go into shock. Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when there’s an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body.

Signs and symptoms of shock include:

  • a pale face
  • cold or clammy skin
  • a rapid pulse
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • yawning
  • unconsciousness

Seek medical attention and ask for an ambulance if you think someone who’s been seriously injured is going into shock.

While you wait for the ambulance:

  • lay the person down (if their injuries allow it) and raise and support their legs
  • use a coat or blanket to keep them warm, but do not cover their face or the burnt area
  • do not give them anything to eat or drink

Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke Complications

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are 2 very serious heat-related health conditions that happen when the temperature inside your body rises to 37°C to 40°C or above. They’re often caused by being exposed to too much sunlight or heat.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke include:

  • extreme tiredness and lack of energy
  • dizziness or fainting
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • rapid pulse
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • irritability
  • confusion

If a person with heat exhaustion is taken quickly to a cool place, given water to drink and has their clothing loosened, they should start to feel better within half an hour. If they don’t, they could develop heatstroke. This is a medical emergency and you’ll need to call for an ambulance.

Infection Complications

burnshield dressing prevent complications

All Burnshield products provide physical protection against infection. Specifically the Burnshield Dressing, the Polyurethane open cell foam creates a barrier against bacteria.

Depending on the severity, treatment and aftercare, burn wounds can become infected if bacteria get into them. If your burn or scald has a blister that’s burst, it may become infected if it’s not kept clean. Seek medical attention.

Your wound may be infected if:

  • it’s uncomfortable, painful or smelly
  • you have a high temperature of 38°C or higher
  • you have signs of cellulitis (a bacterial infection that causes redness and swelling of the skin)

Seek medical attention if you think your burn has become infected. An infection can usually be treated with antibiotics and painkilling medication, if necessary. In rare cases, an infected burn can cause blood poisoning (sepsis) or toxic shock syndrome. These serious conditions can be fatal if not treated.

Signs of sepsis and toxic shock syndrome include:

  • a high temperature
  • dizziness
  • vomiting

Scarring Complications

A scar is a patch or line of tissue that remains after a wound has healed. Burn scars can be a long-term reminder of a traumatic injury and can cause both physical and emotional distress. They can range from mild to severe, and they can be particularly challenging to treat and manage.

There are several types of burn scars, including hypertrophic scars, keloids, and contractures. Hypertrophic scars are raised, red, and thick scars that remain within the boundaries of the original injury. Keloids are similar to hypertrophic scars but extend beyond the boundaries of the original injury. Contractures occur when the scar tissue contracts and pulls the skin, limiting movement and causing disfigurement.

Burn scars can cause physical discomfort and limit mobility, particularly if they are severe or located in an area of the body that is frequently in motion. Scar tissue can also be more sensitive to heat and cold, which can cause pain or discomfort.

Mild scars may fade over time with proper wound care. Severe scars may require medical intervention. Treatment options for burn scars depend on the severity and type of the scar. You can try to reduce the risk of scarring after the wound’s healed by:

  • using sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to protect the healing area from the sun when you’re outside
  • topical creams and ointments, silicone sheets, steroid injections, and surgical procedures such as skin grafting or scar revision.
  • physical therapy and rehabilitation may also be necessary to address any mobility limitations caused by the scar tissue.


Psychological impact

Burns and scalds, especially severe ones, can cause significant and long-lasting distress and affect self-esteem and body image.

After a burn or scald, some people report experiencing:

  • feelings of anxiety and stress
  • low mood and depression
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – which can cause symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and unwanted and intrusive thoughts.
  • a lack of confidence and self-esteem and may avoid social situations or activities they previously enjoyed

If you experience any of these emotional issues, you should speak to the staff at the burns care service. They can arrange an appointment with a psychologist with experience of treating people recovering from burns and scalds.


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