Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration

Burn Debridement

What is burn debridement?

A burn is damage to body tissues caused by sunlight, heat (such as fire, electricity, radiation, hot water or steam), or chemicals. Burns may become infected. Infected burns and the swelling that happens as a result can cause severe damage to the organs and tissues underneath the burned area by putting pressure on the tissues, nerves, and blood vessels. To allow healthy tissue to heal and to prevent more damage or infection, burned tissue is removed in a procedure called burn debridement. Burn debridement can be done by several different methods. They include surgical, chemical, mechanical, or autolytic tissue removal. Debridement may need to be done multiple times as the burned area heals.

How is burn debridement done?

Before the procedure:

  • Your healthcare provider will ask you to sign a consent form for burn debridement. The consent form will state the reason you are having the procedure, what happens during the procedure, and what you may expect afterward.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to any medicines.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are taking any medicines, including nonprescription drugs, herbal remedies, or illegal drugs (if any).
  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.

During the procedure:

  • A cardiac (heart) monitor may be used to keep track of your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Your blood oxygen level may be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.
  • You may be given a sedative through your IV to help you to relax. The medicine can make you drowsy or you may fall asleep before the procedure.
  • You will be given medicine called anesthesia to keep you from feeling pain during the procedure. You may have:
    • Local anesthesia, which numbs the area where the debridement will be done.
    • Regional anesthesia, which numbs a larger area of your body.
    • General anesthesia, which relaxes your muscles and you will be asleep. A breathing tube is usually put in your throat when you have general anesthesia.
  • The surgeon will choose the best debridement procedure for you.
    • Surgical: The burned tissue is removed with a sharp tool or a laser.
    • Chemical: Medicine, usually an ointment, is put on the burned tissue and covered with a dressing to keep it off healthy tissue. The medicine helps remove the burned tissue.
    • Mechanical:
      • Wet to dry dressings: A wet dressing is put on the burn and allowed to dry. Burned tissue attaches to the dressing as it dries and is removed when the dressing is changed.
      • Hydrotherapy: Pressure from a stream of water is used to remove the burned tissue.
    • Autolytic: A wet or moist dressing is put on the burned tissue to keep the burned tissue moist and allow your body to get rid of the burned tissue on its own as it grows new, healthy tissue underneath it.

After the procedure:

  • You will be checked often by nursing staff.
  • There may be a dressing on the debridement area. The dressing will be checked and changed by your provider or the nursing staff as needed.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Reduce fluid build-up and swelling in the body
    • Reduce swelling in the airways

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Bluish color of the skin below your debridement site
    • Increased thirst and dry mouth
    • Numbness in your feet or hands below the level of the burn
    • Increased pain at the site of the burn
    • Increased drainage from the burned area
    • Depression
    • Signs of infection around your debridement site. These include:
      • The area around your wound is more red or painful.
      • The wound area is very warm to touch.
      • You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from your wound area.
      • You have a fever higher than 101.5° F (38.6° C). If you are pregnant, a fever higher than 100° F (37.8° C).
      • You have chills or muscle aches.
  • Ask questions about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay the hospital depends on many things. Your stay will be a combination of how severely you are burned and how large an area is burned, as well as managing any complications you may have. Debridement is part of the treatment for burns and does not directly affect your hospital stay.

If your burn was severe and you have complications, you may stay in the hospital longer. You may need to go to a rehab facility to continue your burn recovery program before going home.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-30
Last reviewed: 2014-07-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

myTuftsMed is our new online patient portal that provides you with access to your medical information in one place. MyTuftsMed can be accessed online or from your mobile device providing a convenient way to manage your health care needs from wherever you are.

With myTuftsMed, you can:

  1. View your health information including your medications, test results, scheduled appointments, medical bills even if you have multiple doctors in different locations.
  2. Make appointments at your convenience, complete pre-visit forms and medical questionnaires and find care or an emergency room.
  3. Connect with a doctor no matter where you are.
  4. Keep track of your children’s and family members’ medical care, view upcoming appointments, book visits and review test results.
  5. Check in on family members who need extra help, all from your private account.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X