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J Burns Wounds. 2006 Feb 15;5:e2.

Modalities for the assessment of burn wound depth.

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The Johns Hopkins Burn Center/Michael D. Hendrix Burn Research Center, Baltimore, MD, USA.



Burn wound depth is a significant determinant of patient treatment and morbidity. While superficial partial-thickness burns generally heal by re-epithelialization with minimal scarring, deeper wounds can form hypertrophic or contracted scars, often requiring surgical excision and grafting to prevent a suboptimal result. In addition, without timely intervention, more superficial burn wounds can convert to deeper wounds. As such, the rapid and accurate assessment of burn wound depth is a priority in treating burn-injured patients. The object of this article is to review current research on modalities useful in the assessment of burn wound depth with emphasis on the relative costs and benefits of each technique.


PubMed and Cochrane computerized databases were used for data retrieval, using the search terms "burns," "burn wounds," "burn depth," "burn depth measurement," and "burn depth progression." In addition, bibliographic references from prior reviews of burn depth were reviewed. All peer-reviewed, English-language articles relevant to the topic of burn depth measurement were reviewed, including those focusing on animal and human populations. Where appropriate, conclusions drawn from review articles and expert analyses were included.


Although bedside evaluation remains the most common modality of diagnosing the depth of burn wounds, recent technological advances have broadened the scope of depth assessment modalities available to clinicians. Other depth assessment techniques include biopsy and histology, and perfusion measurements techniques such as thermography, vital dyes, indocyanine green video angiography, and laser Doppler techniques.


Of the depth assessment modalities currently used in clinical practice, LDI and ICG video angiography offer the best data-supported estimates of accuracy. Until the future of new modalities unfolds, a combination of clinical evaluation and another modality--thermography, biopsy, or, ideally, ICG video angiography or LDI--is advised to best assess the depth of acute burn wounds.


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