Glossary of Terms

Using our glossary

A glossary gives the meanings for the words only as they are used in the context of burn injuries. You may find other definitions for the words in a dictionary. Some glossaries provide a reference link after the definition as additional reading material. This is what we have done below.

  • Burn depth+

    The depth of skin damaged by the burn injury and can be classified by the level of skin damage

    Epidermal: The depth of injury is only to the top layer of cells called epidermal cells e.g. sunburn

    Superficial dermal burn: The depth of injury is to the next deeper layer of skin called the dermis. This level of injury is to the top level of the dermis and can usually heal with simple dressings

    Mid dermal burn: The depth of injury is to the middle level of the dermis. This level of injury will take longer to heal and may need surgery to heal

    Deep dermal burn: The depth of injury is through to the base of the dermis. This level of injury usually will require surgery such as a skin graft for it to heal in a reasonable time

    Full thickness burn: The depth of injury is to all the layers of the skin and will definitely require surgery to heal

  • Burn Causes (Mechanisms)+

    Chemical: Caused by irritating chemicals such as acid or alkalis. The chemical continues to burn until it is completely flushed away with running water. Some chemicals require antidotes other than water

    Cold burn: Also known as ‘reverse thermal’ and frostbite. Injury caused by a cold source such as LPG gas or liquid nitrogen

    Contact: Injury caused by prolonged contact with a heated surface such as a hot exhaust pipe.

    Electrical: Injury caused by the electricity passing through the body and heating up the tissues. It can enter through the hand, pass through the heart and exit through the foot causing damage along the way

    Flame: Injury due to sustained contact with fire or flames

    Flash: Injury is from an explosive blast caused by gases or electrical explosion

    Friction: Injury from a high spread abrasion to the skin, commonly from the rotating belt of a treadmill or from being dragged along a hard surface/road in a motor vehicle accident

    Radiation: Injury from over exposure to radiant energy such as radiotherapy for cancer treatment, sunlight, laser or nuclear blast

    Respiratory: Also referred to inhalation, may be to the respiratory tract from inhalation of hot air or from breathing poisonous gases

    Scald: Common type of burn injury especially in children. Injury is from hot liquids, hot foods or steam

  • Burn Team+

    A team of professionals from different disciplines that work to provide the best outcome for burn patients in the hospital setting. Often includes, Surgeons, Nurses, Mental Health Professionals, Dietitian, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy, Child Life, Social Work, Chaplain, and Rehabilitation specialists.

  • Burn Unit+

    A specialised hospital unit that provides care specific to the needs of those who have suffered burn injuries. Ranging from acute care to outpatient services.

  • Contracture+

    A tightening or pulling of skin in a band-like fashion that decreases movement

  • Debridement+

    The removal of foreign material and dead or damaged tissue from a wound. This is done in surgery or in a dressing change at the bedside with scalpel, or brush etc.

  • Dermis+

    The layer of skin just below the epidermis which contains blood vessels hair follicles, sweat and sebaceous glands

  • Donor Sites+

    The area on the body in which skin is taken to cover other parts of the body which are burned.

  • Epidermis+

    The outer most layer of the skin which has the ability to regularly replace itself

  • Flaps+

    A full thickness section of skin that is raised from one donor site and transferred to another

  • Grafts+

    Skin which is surgically placed on a deeply burned area. It grows into an integral part of the new skin or at least forms a sterile covering until new skin can grow or be placed in the area. Grafts are used to help close wounds.

    Autografts: The donor skin is from the burn patient themselves. This is the only permanent kind of graft.

    Full thickness graft: A graft in which all layers of skin are excised with a scalpel or special knife and placed on a debrided deeply burned area. This donor site will require closure by a split thickness skin graft or closing the edges of the wound together.

    Meshed graft: Usually thin or medium split thickness graft that has been rolled through a perforating machine creating a mesh. This expands the graft so it can cover a wider surface

    Split Thickness Skin Graft (STSG): A graft using a donor which leaves sufficient dermis so the donor site will heal in 10-14 days.

  • Granulation Tissue+

    New growth of tissue on debrided (raw) areas of the wound

  • Hyperpigmentation+

    Abnormal pigmentation (colouration) of the skin

  • Hypopigmentation+

    Abnormal loss of pigmentation (colouration) of the skin

  • Hypertrophic Scar+

    The abnormal increase in size of a scar

  • Intubation+

    Insertion of a tube through the nose or mouth into the trachea (windpipe) to help the patient breath

  • Itching; burn itch+

    The irritation of the skin in burned or scarred areas due to dryness, growth of blood vessels or nerve endings. It can be very uncomfortable. It can be partially controlled by wearing pressure garments, applying lotions and medications or getting involved in activities to get the mind off of the itching

  • Keloid Scar+

    An abnormal scar that grows beyond the boundary of the original site of a skin injury. It is uncommon in burn injuries

  • Laser+

    Laser cans be used for the treatment of scars both early on and later when they are mature. Using Laser therepy may improve the appearance, flexibility and itch of the scar tissue. Laser works by creating hundreds of small thermal injuries to the skin, leaving the surrounding areas uninjured. With this new injury from the laser there should be remodelling of the scar with an improvement in the scar.

  • Percent of Burn+

    The percent of the total body surface area (%TBSA) which is burned. Evaluation takes into account the depth of the burn and consequently does not include epidermal burns. This is particularly important when admitting new burns to help determine the amount of fluid and what nutrients to give and what life-saving procedures to use.

  • Pressure Garments+

    Commonly this is a specially measured to fit elasticised pressure garment. These garments put pressure on scars to decrease scar growth and to aid blood flow. Garments are made to cover any part of the body affected by scarring, including specialised pressure masks for the face

  • Prosthesis+

    Artificial replacement parts for missing body parts or organs: e.g. leg, hand, eye, ear etc.

  • PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder+

    Post traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, major trauma or sexual assault. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD which can be treated by mental health professionals.

  • Range of Motion (ROM)+

    The amount of normal body movement in a body part. Range of motion is often limited in a burned person due to pain or scar tissue. This may limit how the person can function, e.g. walking, combing hair, putting on clothes etc.

  • Rehabilitation+

    The process of restoring a person to a useful life and to their maximum potential after an illness or injury. It is accomplished through education and therapy. It must also be accompanied by the patient’s desire to get well

  • Release+

    A surgical procedure to cut into the scar tissue in a manner that allows more movement of the body parts. It may require the addition of a skin graft or other surgical procedure.

  • Respiratory Therapy+

    The use of water vapour, gases by inhalation and breathing exercises to increase the capacity of the lungs. This may include body positioning and rhythmic percussion on the chest or back to assist with dislodging materials from the lungs for clearer breathing.

  • Scar+

    Marks left on the skin or internal organs by the healing of a wound. New connective tissue replaces the injured tissue. When it is first developed it is red or purple and later turns white or pink.

  • Scar Maturity+

    Stage of scar development when the scar stops growing, loses its redness, softens slightly and usually stops itching. Occurs many months after the original injury.

  • Skin+

    The skin is the largest organ of the body. It is tough and flexible and protects the underlying tissues from damage or infection. It is also waterproof and controls body temperature and sends sensory signals via nerve endings to the brain. When skin is burned its ability to keep out infection and keep in body fluids is damaged. It is made up of epidermis and dermis

  • Splint+

    A temporary device, usually made of plastic or plaster of Paris, to immobilise, protect or stretch an injured part of the body. It may be movable or immovable.

  • Sterile+

    Free from germs or bacteria

  • Tissue Expander+

    Tissue expanders are used to stretch the skin. A balloon type instrument is inserted under the skin and the doctor fills it with saline solution over a series of weeks to gradually expand or stretch the skin. The newly stretched skin may then be relocated to an area where there is scar and tightness in the skin or to extend hair baring skin where there is skin loss. Typically on the scalp.

  • Tracheostomy+

    An operation cutting into the trachea (airway) usually for insertion of a tube to overcome an obstructed airway. Occurs in burn patients when the trachea swells shut from inhalation burns or injury. This can be an emergency procedure to keep the patient alive or can be used if the patient requires long term support from a ventilator.

  • Z-Plasty+

    An incision, in the shape of a Z made during surgical release of scar bands when skin grating is not necessary.

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