Does Overestimation of Burn Size in Children Requiring Fluid Resuscitation Cause Any Harm?

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Abstract

Overestimation of burn size especially in children is common. It is unclear if this may cause harm. This study was designed to assess the accuracy of burn size estimation by referring non-burn clinicians and investigate whether inaccurate estimates caused any harm. Three and a half years retrospective review of pediatric resuscitation burns (ie, ≥10% TBSA) referred to a tertiary burns center from other hospitals was performed. This included basic demographics, data from referring emergency departments (initial TBSA estimations and fluid volumes prescribed), and data on arrival to the burn center (actual burn TBSA sustained, fluid volumes given prior to arrival, and actual fluid volumes required). Clinical parameters at 8 and 24 hr after injury were also examined. Forty-six patients were identified. Mean age was 3.9 years and weight 18 kg. Mean time to arrival from initial burn injury to our tertiary center was 5 hr. Thirty-two children (70%) had their burns overestimated, seven (15%) underestimated, and another seven (15%) were correctly estimated. After accurate calculations of the burn size and the required resuscitation fluids on arrival to the burns center, only five children of the entire cohort of 46 patients (11%) had received more fluids than required. These five children were in the overestimated burn size group. Only three children received the appropriate amount of fluid prior to arrival to the burns center. There were no mortalities or significant clinical adverse events in any of the children. Overestimation led to overprescription of fluid volumes, but this did not translate into over-resuscitation, and in most cases was in fact associated with inadequate fluid administration. Although 70% of the children in our cohort had the burn size overestimated, only 11% had actually received more fluids than required before arrival. None of these children went on to have any significant complications as a result of overestimation. Training and education is essential for clinicians in emergency departments. However, estimation of size in pediatric burns, in particular scalds, is challenging and the importance of early transfer to a specialist service cannot be overemphasized.

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