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Respiratory Care for Burn Patients

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Respiratory Care for Burn Patients

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In our personal injury law practice, we have represented clients who suffered severe burns in motor vehicle accidents. The treatment course for burn injuries is unique and often includes the need for respiratory therapy. 

If you have suffered burns in a car accident or any other type of incident caused by the negligence of another party, please do not wait – call us to consult with one of our compassionate injury attorneys at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. Knowledge about burn injuries and the long-lasting damage that they cause is an important criterion when choosing an attorney. Because of the uniqueness of burn injuries, only a lawyer with burn case experience can ensure that you are fully and fairly compensated for your damages.

Respiratory Damage in Burn Patients

Burn patients with second or third-degree burns usually have challenges beyond just the wounds to their skin. They often require respiratory therapy due to lung damage caused by smoke or steam inhalation. Failing to tackle lung or airway problems can lead to life-threatening and/or permanent complications. This can be true even if the burns to the skin are not extensive.

Respiratory therapists are essential in the acute phase of medical care following burn injuries. Arterial blood gases will be tested to check for oxygenation of the blood. The therapists may be involved in the early intubation of the burn victim to prevent loss of the airway caused by swelling. They may also assist with bronchoscopies to check for airway damage deeper in the lungs. As the treatment phase continues, respiratory therapists will perform ventilator management and airway maintenance until the patient’s functions improve.

Respiratory Therapist Techniques in Burn Management

As part of the healing process, the respiratory therapist will be engaged in helping the burn patient perform “therapeutic coughing.” This is an essential exercise in clearing the airway of mucus and debris. If the patient cannot cough well, the tiny alveoli that help exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide may collapse, which could cause pneumonia. 

The respiratory therapist will likely ask the patient to take successively stronger coughs to build up the cough reflex. The therapist may place their index and middle fingers directly in the sternal notch below the patient’s neck. Massaging this area will help trigger a cough when the patient comes out of a coma or anesthesia.

The respiratory therapist can also stimulate a cough in a patient who has a ventilation tube by pumping up the cuff around the tube, squeezing a quick breath into the lungs with an Ambu bag, holding the breath in for a few seconds, and allowing for a slow exhale that can clear the lungs and airway of phlegm. The patient can be positioned in several ways to let gravity and percussion on the chest wall bring up mucus and debris from the lungs. Vibrating the chest while the patient is exhaling can loosen secretions as well.

Getting the patient up and walking can stimulate coughing and airway release of secretions. If all of the above things are not satisfactory, especially if the patient cannot move or cough independently, the airway may need to be suctioned every two hours to eliminate secretions from the body. If the patient does not have an endotracheal tube, it can be suctioned via the nose. A tube is passed from the nose down through the vocal cords to suction out mucus. If all else fails to remove secretions from the body, a fiberoptic bronchoscope can be passed down the trachea so that secretions can be visualized and cleared. By using a thin bronchoscope, even smaller airways can be suctioned effectively.

Respiratory Medications in Burn Management

Other tools in the arsenal used by respiratory therapists are bronchodilating medications. These lessen spasms of the airways. Burn patients with pre-existing asthma or another type of airway disease will be especially helped by these medications. Nebulizing treatments with medicine like albuterol can very quickly open up narrowed airways. Other drugs are available that can do the same thing, such as metaproterenol or racemic epinephrine.

Another way of clearing mucus is to use a strong saline solution and put droplets into the trachea and bronchi. This draws mucus out of the tissues to be suctioned more readily out of the lungs. 

Mechanical Ventilation May be Necessary

People with burn injuries are sometimes kept in a medically-induced coma due to extreme pain or respiratory insult. In such cases, the respiratory therapist is crucial in managing the ventilator process. The ventilator can control the patient’s respiration or assist the patient in taking breaths. 

The ventilator can be set to give the patient a fast respiratory rate with smaller breaths each time to reduce the lung damage that can come from putting too much pressure on them. 

Watch the YouTube video. The video below discusses how respiratory therapists care for people with breathing or lung problems.

Burn Injury Lawyers in Sacramento, CA

If you or a family member has suffered severe burn injuries in an accident, call our skilled Sacramento Burn Injury Attorneys at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for compassionate, free, and friendly advice.

We are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

See our case history of verdicts and settlements and our client reviews on GoogleYelp, and Avvo.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 9.16.22]

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