How to Choose the Best Dressing for Burns

How to Choose the Best Dressing for Burns
19 April 2023

How to Choose the Best Dressing for Burns

Burns and scalds are time-critical injuries that require swift, appropriate care to minimise damage and initiate a successful healing process. As with all wounds, dressing burns should be approached with caution and attention to detail. Having the right knowledge of burn care methods and understanding what dressing to put on a burn and why is essential to successful recovery. 

While the term ‘burn’ can refer to minor injuries such as sunburn, many are serious and can be life-threatening, presenting a challenging clinical issue for medical staff. Burn healing takes time and can cause patients to suffer in pain for extended periods. Utilising the right tools, burn dressing types, and treatments can significantly improve recovery and patient comfort. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what considerations to make when deciding on the ideal burn dressing and take you through the different types of dressings for burns available to help you determine what dressing to use on a burn injury to accelerate healing. Also, check out our guide on how to dress a burn for expert advice.

Choosing Between Burn Dressing Types: Essential Considerations

When you’re faced with deciding what dressing to put on a burn, take time to assess the wound to establish the goals for effective wound management. The following considerations should inform your dressing selection:

ConsiderationTips
The amount of exudate

Exudate (the fluid that wounds excrete as they recover and heal) can impact the effectiveness and suitability of different burn dressing types. For optimal wound healing, wound dressings for burns should support the careful management of moisture over the wound surface.

The best dressing for burns with a lot of exudate would absorb moisture, pulling the excess away from the wound, whereas burn wounds that are drying out would benefit from a dressing that provides moisture, such as a hydrogel dressing.

The state of the tissue around the burn

A key priority in effective burn treatment is to protect healthy tissue and to debride (remove) non-viable, damaged or dead tissue to prevent infection and promote healing. 

Assess the type of tissue at the base of the burn area to determine what burn dressing types are required. Less severe, superficial burns will simply need to be covered and protected with a burn dressing, whereas more severe burns and those with broken blisters will likely require debridement.
The depth of the burn

The burn depth (referring to how many layers of tissue are affected) will determine what kind of burn dressing is most suitable. 

Standard dressings are adequate for superficial burns, whereas deep burns may require referral to a surgeon and the application of antimicrobial or silver dressings to prevent infection as the layers of tissue heal.

Contamination and Infection

If the wound is contaminated or infected, choosing the right dressing is crucial to prevent deterioration, slowed healing and the potential for illness. 

Depending on the status of the burn, silver dressing products or antimicrobial dressings are a good option for helping to control bacteria and reducing the risk of infection.
The location and size of the burn wound

Dressings for burns should be large enough to completely cover the wound area to provide a protective barrier and minimise contamination risk. Depending on what types of burn dressings are available and the location of the burn, large burns can be covered with overlapped burn dressings that should be secured with tape to guard against slippage, which risks exposing the wound. 

The site of the burn wound also impacts dressing selection. For areas, where a range of motion needs to be retained, such as the hands, non-bulky dressings with strong adhesive are preferred, such as hydrocolloid or hydrogel dressings. For burns on the torso, additional measures to secure dressings in place, such as tape or adhesive dressings, will be necessary to avoid slippage.

The ease of application and removal

Burncare is time-critical, so selecting a dressing that is easy to apply and secure is essential. Consider the contour of the wound surface and surrounding area to ensure the chosen dressing stays in position and adheres well. 

Factoring in how easy a dressing will be to remove is also important. Ideally, burns should be covered with a dressing that won’t adhere to the wound surface and be painful to remove. 

Also, consider how comfortable dressing will be to remove from infant patients; non-adhesive dressing solutions may be preferable.

Patient circumstances

The patient’s situation should also be considered when selecting the best dressings for burns. Discuss the patient’s recovery environment, accounting for factors that may affect healing and dressing needs. 

For patients who cannot return to a hospital or clinic for daily dressing changes, dressings that can safely remain in place for several days would be ideal. Or, if their lifestyle or occupation presents a high risk of infection, silver or antimicrobial dressings may be preferable.

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The Primary Goals of All Burn Dressings

Regardless of the depth, size and severity of the wound, the overall aims of any kind of burn dressing are to:

Prevent infection
Prevent the burn from progressing and deepening
Promote or preserve moisture for the wound to heal
Reduce pain symptoms
Allow for movement and function
Decrease swelling and inflammation

The Ideal Burn Dressing: What to Look For

The qualities and features of the best dressings for burns include:

Allows for easy wound assessment and access.
Easy and painless to remove without disrupting the wound bed.
Secure adhesion around the wound, while not adhering to the wound surface.
Provides a consistent, sealed buried against bacterial contamination, preventing infection.
Protective layer to cushion the wound area and promote healing by retaining necessary moisture.
Decrease swelling and inflammation

Understanding the Different Types of Dressings for Burns

As with most injuries and ailments, burns and scalds vary in size, form, severity and depth. The available range of wound dressings for burns is also broad and varied, with many different burn care solutions available, most of which are suited to different burn types for a number of reasons.

Your dressing selection should be dictated by the state of the burn wound. Burn dressing types vary, and several different products could be suitable. Most burn dressings are low-adherent (won’t stick to the wound surface) and are often occlusive (won’t let moisture out). Foam, impregnated film, or active dressings such as hydrogels, hydrocolloids and alginates are some of the most common types of burn dressing. Below, we’ll take you through the main types of dressings used for burns that are often found in burn care kits or first aid kits and are used by medical professionals in clinical hospital settings.

someone with a burn being treated

Hydrogel Dressing for Burns 

Many medical professionals and qualified first aiders choose to use a cooling hydrogel dressing for burns. Hydrogel dressings are synthetic, hydrophilic interactive dressings with very high water content. They have been developed to accelerate wound healing by creating a moist, cooling protective layer that seals over a wound area. 

Hydrogel dressings provide cushioning and defend against contaminants and harmful bacteria that threaten to infect the wound. They also act as a ‘second skin’, mimicking the natural skin membrane that’s been burned away to keep in moisture and encourage re-epithelialization (regrowing the skin’s surface) while absorbing some exudate. 

Hydrogel dressings are considered to be some of the best dressings for burns, especially when they’re applied quickly. Their cooling hydrogel helps dissipate heat around the wound from the moment of application, with a continued cooling effect lasting up to eight hours. Heat dissipation helps to stop the spread of heat to lower tissues, minimising potential damage and reducing pain. Many hydrogel dressings for burns contain antibacterial or antimicrobial ingredients that help to prevent infection.

What kind of burns can be treated with a hydrogel dressing?

To best use a hydrogel dressing, burns excreting little to no fluid should be treated with hydrogel as soon as possible. Hydrogel dressings are also suitable for treating more serious second-degree burns, burn wounds with necrotic (dead) tissues, and infected wound sites due to their antimicrobial properties. Hydrogel-impregnated products are also one of the best radiation burn dressing options available. 

Premium Hydrogel Burn Dressings from Steroplast

Steroplast stocks a range of professional quality burn dressings produced by the industry-leading brand Burnshield. 

Burnshield products are made from a specially formulated hydrogel for high-performance burncare. Burnshield hydrogel contains natural tea-tree oil that is antibacterial to fight infection and has a high water content which consistently cools a burn wound area to accelerate the healing process.

Burnshield’s range of sterile hydrogel burn dressings is ideal for first aid kits at home or in the workplace. Burnshield hydrogel dressings for burns are included in our Burncare First Aid Kit, Steroburn Premier Emergency Burncare Kit, Sterochef Catering First Aid Kit and Mini Burn First Aid Kit.

Burnshield’s fast-acting hydrogel is also available in a gel form that can be applied directly onto burned skin to soothe or cool the area, or used to rehydrate a dressing to continue the cooling effects and keep the wound area moist.

If you want to stock up on burncare products, consider one of Burnshield’s premium quality kits:

Do you have questions? Check out our Burnshield Frequently Asked Questions page for more details.

You can find expert guidance on burns first aid kits and burncare techniques on our blog:

Paraffin Burn Dressing

Paraffin burn dressing products are also a popular choice for effective burn treatment. Paraffin dressings consist of a fine layer of gauze which is impregnated with paraffin ointment that maintains moisture around the wound and stops the gauze from adhering to the exposed tissue. The sterile, allergy-safe paraffin ointment also helps prevent infection and ensures the wound doesn’t dry out, promoting the skin’s natural process of re-epithelialization.

For effective care, a paraffin burn dressing is usually covered with a secondary absorbent wound dressing that’s unmedicated and will absorb excess moisture that the wound excretes as it heals. It’s important to note that paraffin dressings usually need to be changed daily to prevent the gauze from adhering to the surface of a granulating wound.

What kind of burns can be treated with a paraffin burn dressing?

Medical professionals opt for paraffin dressings to treat partial-thickness burns that need a clean, moist environment. Paraffin dressings are also one of the best chemical burn dressing solutions because they create a neutral, sterile environment for the burn wound to recover and heal.

Quality Paraffin Burn Dressings from Steroplast

Jelonet paraffin dressings are a great solution for burncare, both soothing and protecting the wound. Steroplast stocks a range of Jelonet dressings that are ideal for burns, as well as treating other wound types such as abrasions, skin graft sites, or ulcers. 

Jelonet dressings are made from an open weave gauze that’s sterile and impregnated with allergy-safe paraffin. The gauze is woven with interlocking threads of fabric that prevent fraying or linting when the gauze is cut to shape, reducing the risk of loose material contaminating the wound site. 

Jelonet gauze easily conforms to the contours of a wound and has excellent wicking properties, which means it draws exudate away from the wound area. This allows excess liquid to pass into an absorbent secondary dressing, helping to manage moisture levels around the wound site effectively.

Hydrocolloid Dressing for Burns

In some cases, choosing a hydrocolloid dressing for burns is preferable. Hydrocolloid dressings and plasters are developed to be biodegradable, long-lasting, and easy to apply and remove.  

The ‘hydrocolloid’ aspect of these dressings refers to the ingredients that are specially formulated to form a gel when they come into contact with liquid, in this case referring to the exudate that excretes from a burn wound as it heals. Most hydrocolloid burn dressings absorb and hold excess exudate to manage the moisture level around the wound while protecting it from infection. The hydrocolloid ingredients help to soften and break down the wound tissue beneath to promote healing.

What kind of burns can be treated with a hydrocolloid burn dressing?

Hydrocolloid dressings are appropriate for deep burn wounds and, in most cases, the deeper the burn, the thicker the layer of hydrocolloid. They work most effectively for burns with low to moderate exudate and are suitable for sensitive skin. 

Hydrocolloid dressings should be monitored regularly but can usually remain in place for 3-4 days. The wound site should be closely inspected between dressing changes. 

Hydrocolloid Burncare Solutions from Steroplast

Steroplast has developed premium quality hydrocolloid plasters that are suitable for small burn wounds. You can find out all about hydrocolloid plasters on our blog.

Silver Dressing for Burns 

Developed as a solution for antimicrobial burn dressing, silver-containing agents are impregnated into the dressing pad. Silver, which is toxic to microorganisms, prevents the growth and spread of bacteria over a wound and provides anti-inflammatory benefits to soothe the area. Developed to slowly release silver over time, silver burn dressings are an effective way to quickly control and prevent infection in healing burns. 

What kind of burns can be treated with a silver burn dressing?

When it comes to choosing a burn dressing, silver-impregnated dressings are a good solution for burn wounds that are infected or vulnerable to infection. This includes deep or full-thickness burns, contaminated or clinically infected burn wounds, mixed depth burns, and less severe burn areas with a large surface size, which increases the risk of infection. 

In most cases, the application of silver burn dressings should be discontinued after 48 hours. Using a silver dressing for burns is effective in preventing infection in the first stages of treatment. However, the slow release of silver into the wound bed after 48 hours has been found to prolong healing times once an infection has been controlled. After this time, opt for a hydrogel or paraffin burn dressing to keep the wound area moist and accelerate the healing process. 

Collagen Dressing for Burns 

In some cases, choosing to use a collagen dressing for burns is an effective option that can speed up healing. Collagen dressings come in various forms, including sheets, pastes, powders, gels, or collagen-coated pads, and the collagen element is usually derived from equine, bovine, porcine, avian, or piscine sources. 

Most collagen burn dressings work by forming a gel when they come into contact with wound exudate, helping to maintain a moist environment around the wound site. Collagen is a protein that is believed to strengthen damaged tissue, which can improve rates of healing through each phase of re-epithelialization.

What kind of burns can be treated with a collagen burn dressing?

Partial and full-thickness burns can be treated effectively with collagen dressings or applications and usually require a secondary dressing over the top to help manage exudate. 

Some collagen dressings for burns are combined with silver-containing agents to help prevent infection risk, so these kinds of collagen dressings may be suitable for burn wounds with a particular risk of infection, such as wounds with a large surface area.

The Best Treatment for Acid Burns

While there are multiple types of dressings for burns, the best approach for the initial treatment of hydrofluoric acid burns is to apply calcium gluconate gel.

In the event of a hydrofluoric acid spillage coming into contact with skin, the acid’s fluoride ions need to be neutralised as quickly as possible to minimise the potential damage the acid can do to tissue and bone. Apply calcium gluconate gel over the area as soon as possible to ease pain and offset the harmful chemical reaction. 

Always seek medical attention in the event of an acid injury, even if calcium gluconate gel has been used. 

In the event of a hydrofluoric acid spillage coming into contact with skin, the acid’s fluoride ions need to be neutralised as quickly as possible to minimise the potential damage the acid can do to tissue and bone. Apply calcium gluconate gel over the area as soon as possible to ease pain and offset the harmful chemical reaction. 

Always seek medical attention in the event of an acid injury, even if calcium gluconate gel has been used. 

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