Acute Management of Thermal Hand Burns in Adults: A 10-Year Review of the Literature

Ann Plast Surg. 2021 Mar 5. doi: 10.1097/SAP.0000000000002755. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Advances in the evidence base of acute thermal hand burns help to guide the management of these common injuries. The aim of this literature review was to evaluate recent evidence in the field over 10 years.

Methods: The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis Protocols methodology was used as a guide for this literature review. PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and Google Scholar were searched for English language articles related to hand burns published between 2009 and 2018 inclusive, and the Cochrane Library was reviewed. Exclusion criteria were as follows: participants younger than 18 years, scar or contracture management, rehabilitation, outcomes assessment, late reconstruction, and electrical or chemical burns.

Results: An initial search retrieved 6493 articles, which was narrowed to 403 full-text articles that were reviewed independently by 3 of the authors and categorized. Of 202 included articles, there were 8 randomized controlled trials and 2 systematic reviews. Six evidence-based guidelines were reviewed. Referral of hand burns to specialist centers, use of telemedicine, early excision and grafting, and immediate static splintage have been recommended. Enzymatic debridement results in earlier intervention, more accurate burn assessment, preservation of vital tissue, and fewer skin grafts, and ideally requires regional anesthesia. Guidance on escharotomy emphasizes indication, technique and adequate intervention, and potential for enzymatic debridement. Inclusion of topical negative pressure, dermal regenerative templates, acellular dermal matrices, and noncellular skin substitutes in management has helped improve scar and functional outcomes.

Discussion: The results of this literature review demonstrate that multiple national and international societies have published burns guidelines during the decade studied, with aspects directly relevant to hand burns, including the International Society for Burn Injuries guidelines. There are opportunities for evidence-based quality improvement across the field of hand burns in many centers.

Conclusions: More than 200 articles globally in 10 years outline advances in the understanding of acute management of thermal hand burns. Incorporating the evidence base into practice may facilitate optimization of triage referral pathways and acute management for hand burns.