Identifying Characteristics of the Emergent Period in Deep Full-Thickness Burn Injuries

The emergent period following a deep full-thickness burn injury is a critical phase in burn care, characterized by specific clinical manifestations and challenges. Nurses and healthcare providers must be adept at recognizing the distinctive characteristics of this phase to provide timely and effective care. In this article, we will explore the key findings that are characteristic during the emergent period after a deep full-thickness burn injury.

Understanding the Emergent Period

The emergent period, also known as the resuscitative or shock phase, immediately follows a severe burn injury and typically lasts for the first 48 to 72 hours. This phase is marked by physiological responses to the burn, including systemic changes and fluid shifts, which can be life-threatening if not managed promptly.

Key Characteristics of the Emergent Period:

  1. Hemodynamic Instability:
    • Hypovolemic Shock: Hemodynamic instability is a hallmark of the emergent period. Profound fluid loss from the burn injury leads to hypovolemic shock, resulting in decreased blood pressure and inadequate tissue perfusion.
    • Tachycardia: An elevated heart rate (tachycardia) is common during this phase as the body attempts to compensate for reduced cardiac output.
  2. Edema Formation:
    • Generalized Edema: Edema, or swelling, is a notable characteristic of the emergent period. It occurs due to increased capillary permeability and fluid shifts from the intravascular to the interstitial space.
    • Airway Edema: In cases of deep full-thickness facial or neck burns, airway edema can be particularly concerning, potentially leading to airway compromise and respiratory distress.
  3. Hypothermia:
    • Decreased Body Temperature: Profuse fluid loss can result in hypothermia during the emergent period. The loss of the skin’s insulating properties and exposure to a cool environment contribute to decreased body temperature.
  4. Pain and Anxiety:
    • Severe Pain: Patients often experience severe pain during this phase, as the burn injury damages nerve endings. Adequate pain management is crucial to alleviate distress.
    • Anxiety and Psychological Stress: Patients may exhibit high levels of anxiety and psychological stress due to the traumatic nature of the injury and the uncertainty of the situation.
  5. Altered Mental Status:
    • Confusion or Lethargy: The decreased perfusion of vital organs, including the brain, can lead to altered mental status. Patients may become confused or lethargic.
  6. Compromised Respiratory Function:
    • Hypoxemia: Impaired lung function may result in decreased oxygen levels in the blood (hypoxemia), requiring supplemental oxygen and, in severe cases, mechanical ventilation.
    • Carbon Dioxide Retention: Difficulty in exhaling carbon dioxide can lead to carbon dioxide retention (hypercapnia), necessitating vigilant monitoring and potential interventions.
  7. Elevated Hematocrit Levels:
    • Hemoconcentration: Due to the loss of plasma from the intravascular space into the interstitial space, hematocrit levels may rise. This indicates hemoconcentration and is a characteristic laboratory finding during the emergent phase.
  8. Risk of Compartment Syndrome:
    • Compartment Syndrome: Deep full-thickness burn injuries, especially those affecting limbs, can increase the risk of compartment syndrome. This condition results from increased pressure within a muscle compartment, potentially compromising blood flow to the muscles and nerves.
  9. Impaired Renal Function:
    • Decreased Urine Output: Reduced renal blood flow during the emergent period can lead to decreased urine output, a finding known as oliguria.
    • Risk of Acute Kidney Injury (AKI): In severe cases, the decreased perfusion of the kidneys can predispose patients to acute kidney injury.

Importance of Timely Intervention

Recognizing these characteristic findings during the emergent period is crucial for initiating appropriate interventions. Treatment focuses on fluid resuscitation to restore intravascular volume, adequate pain management, wound care, and monitoring for complications. The goal is to stabilize the patient’s condition and prepare them for subsequent phases of burn care.


Understanding the unique characteristics of the emergent period following a deep full-thickness burn injury is essential for healthcare providers, especially nurses, involved in burn care. Timely recognition of hemodynamic instability, edema formation, hypothermia, pain and anxiety, altered mental status, compromised respiratory function, elevated hematocrit levels, the risk of compartment syndrome, and impaired renal function allows for prompt intervention and improved outcomes for burn injury patients.


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