Assessing and Managing Drooling and Swallowing Difficulties in Burned Clients: Nurse’s Immediate Response

Burn injuries can have far-reaching effects, often impacting multiple systems in the body, including the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. In this article, we will explore a scenario in which a client who has suffered burn injuries is experiencing drooling and difficulty swallowing. We will discuss the nurse’s pivotal role in assessing and managing these symptoms and determining the most immediate action to take.

The Significance of Respiratory and Gastrointestinal Complications

Burn injuries can lead to various complications, some of which may affect the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Understanding the potential impact of burns on these systems is crucial for nurses in providing comprehensive care.

The Scenario

Imagine a client who has sustained burn injuries and is now exhibiting two concerning symptoms:

  1. Drooling: The client is experiencing excessive drooling, which may indicate difficulty in controlling saliva and could be a sign of compromised airway protection.
  2. Swallowing Difficulties: The client is having trouble swallowing, which can be related to burn injuries involving the mouth or throat and may further complicate nutritional intake and respiratory function.

Immediate Nursing Actions

When a client who has suffered burn injuries presents with drooling and swallowing difficulties, the nurse’s first action should prioritize the client’s safety and well-being:

  1. Airway Assessment: The nurse must immediately assess the client’s airway for any signs of obstruction or compromise. This includes checking for any foreign objects or secretions that may be obstructing the airway.
  2. Oxygenation and Ventilation: Ensure that the client’s oxygenation and ventilation are adequate. Administer supplemental oxygen if necessary to maintain oxygen saturation within the target range.
  3. Elevate Head of Bed: Raise the head of the client’s bed to a semi-Fowler’s position if tolerated. This position can help reduce the risk of aspiration and promote respiratory comfort.
  4. Assess for Burns: Examine the client’s oral and throat area for burns or signs of injury that may be causing the swallowing difficulties. Document the extent and severity of any burns found.
  5. NPO Status: If there is a concern about the client’s ability to swallow safely, consider placing the client on NPO (nothing by mouth) status temporarily to prevent further aspiration or complications.
  6. Collaborate with Healthcare Team: Communicate the client’s condition and assessment findings promptly with the healthcare team, including the attending physician and a speech-language pathologist if available.
  7. Suctioning: If necessary, perform oral suctioning to clear excess saliva or secretions from the mouth and prevent aspiration.

Comprehensive Assessment and Interventions

Following the initial actions, the nurse should conduct a comprehensive assessment to identify the underlying cause of the drooling and swallowing difficulties. This may involve further examination of the oral cavity and throat, as well as collaboration with other healthcare professionals, such as a gastroenterologist or otolaryngologist, if needed.

The management plan may include addressing pain, inflammation, or burns in the oral and throat areas, providing swallowing assessments and strategies, and ensuring adequate nutrition and hydration through appropriate means (e.g., enteral or parenteral nutrition).


When a client with burn injuries presents with drooling and swallowing difficulties, the nurse’s immediate response must focus on airway protection and respiratory support. Identifying the cause of these symptoms and collaborating with the healthcare team for comprehensive assessment and intervention is essential to ensure the client’s safety and promote their recovery. Swift and vigilant nursing care can make a significant difference in the outcome for clients with burn injuries and associated complications.


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