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The Emotional Impact of Burns on the Patient

During the recovery process, burned patient begins to heal both physically and emotionally. Some patients and depending on the severity of the burn injury (second and third degree burns) will go through painful procedures and treatments and start to be aware of the impact of the injury and how their injuries have changed their lives as some may lose loved ones and some may lose everything they have worked for.

Patients in this stage may experience sleep disturbance due to many factors including being in a hospital environmental with the lights and the staff awakening them for medication and vital signs checking. Anxiety and depression as a result of the burn also play a role in sleep disturbance so as nightmares, agitation and pain for the burn injuries. Psychological issues (pre-burn) such as depression may have an adverse effect on the outcome of the patient. These patients may stay in the hospital for a longer time and may have more severe psychological consequences after the injury.

Anxiety and depression counseling may be helpful to reassure the patient that after a trauma like this, it’s not uncommon to experience these symptoms and these symptoms may disappear on their own with time. Sometimes medication may be needed in addition to counseling.

Drugs, in the form of Opiates, may be used to treat the pain. They can be either long acting or short acting. Long acting opiates are used for pain caused by the burn injury while short acting opiates are used for pain due to procedures performed such as wound care.

Non drug methods include hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy. A new technique called virtual reality can be helpful in burn patients, these patients often experience excruciating sensations of pain, and this will distract the attention of the patient from the painful procedures as a person can only focus on one stimulus at a time.

In severe burn injury or when there is inhalational injuries, patients may need to be admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital. In this scary environment with all the tubes and instruments attached to the patient, the painful procedures that the patient is going through, separation from friends and family, limited outside communication, struggling for survival and other factors such as the high doses of medications used in the treatment, infections, metabolic conditions and others may contribute to the patient’s symptoms; the patient may experience psychological issues such as extreme drowsiness, confusion, disorientation and delirium and the patient may start to misinterpret his/her surrounding when there is an altered state of consciousness, like misidentifying friends, hear things that are not really there, etc.

Members of the burn team taking care of the patient will work with the patient’s family to do whatever they can to enhance recovery. The patient is encouraged to deal with this unusual situation in the intensive care unit with whatever means possible such as denial. Family members play an important role in the recovery, although it is hard and distressing for them to see a loved one in this condition and going through all of this, they should always be calm and give hope to the patient as this will help in the recovery.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.