Postburn Itch: A Review of the Literature

Bernadette Nedelec, BSc OT, PhD; Léo LaSalle, MD


Wounds. 2018;30(1):10-16. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The problem of postburn itch has been underevaluated and undertreated in the past. However, recently published data have expanded the evidence base, which provides clinicians and their patients with new evaluation and treatment options that can help reduce and potentially eliminate the prolonged distress experienced by burn survivors faced with postburn itch. Although a gold standard evaluation method has not yet been agreed upon, there are a number of tools that have been published that clinicians can use for assessment. Epidemiological evidence has confirmed that the vast majority of both adult and pediatric burn survivors experience itch for years following injury. At discharge from the acute care hospital, 93% of burn survivors with major burn injuries report postburn itch that is still experienced by 44% of adult burn survivors 30 years postburn. Although larger surface area injuries are more likely to require a multimodal treatment approach to reduce the itch intensity as well as the episode duration and frequency, burn survivors with small surface area injuries also experience itch that needs to be addressed. A number of treatment protocols have been described that commonly call for concurrent administration of both pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatment approaches. These protocols provide clinicians with a structured, systematic approach to treatment decisions that are evidence-based. Although many questions require further investigation, the current state of the science creates an ethical imperative that all burn survivors' itch experience should be quantitatively evaluated and appropriate treatment options explored until satisfactory outcomes are obtained.


Itch (pruritus) has long been acknowledged as a complication associated with burn injuries and/or donor sites, but in the past many people believed it would spontaneously improve with time. Although the understanding of postburn itch is still evolving, recent evidence has clearly documented that itch can last for years and does not necessarily resolve when the wound has healed. In fact, when asked their opinion, both burn survivors[1,2] and burn care professionals[1,3] ranked itch as 1 of the top 3 priority issues in need of research and improved treatment options. Thankfully, researchers have responded to this call for more attention; the aim of this review is to present the broadened understanding of the problem and provide updated and evidence-based options for assessment and treatment.