Sensory Descriptors Used by People With Burn Scarring

Ms Naomi Davis1, Dr Laura Miller1, Dr Megan Simons2,3,4, Prof Roy Kimble3,4,5,6, Dr Zephanie Tyack2

1School of Allied Health, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, Australia, 2Centre for Burns and Trauma Research, Child Health Research Centre, Centre for Children’s Health Research, South Brisbane, Australia, 3Department of Occupational Therapy, Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, South Brisbane, Australia, 4School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 5Centre for Childrens Burns and Trauma Research, Queensland Childrens Medical Research Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 6Department of Paediatric Surgery, Urology, Neonatal Surgery, Burns and Trauma, Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia, 7School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia


Background: There is little empirical evidence regarding diverse sensory experiences other than itch and pain. Sensory descriptors can provide valuable information to inform tailored scar management and assess the effectiveness of interventions. Distressing sensory experiences are associated with reduce wellbeing and quality-of-life outcomes for burns patients. This study aimed to identify sensory descriptors used by adults at the time of scar development.

Method: Participants were patients aged 18 years and older, attending an acute tertiary hospital for post-acute burn scar interventions with burn wounds at least 85% re-epithelialised. Participants completed the adult version of the Brisbane Burns Scar Impact Profile (BBSIP) at baseline (85% re-epithelisation). Responses to the open ended sensory item were analysed using content analysis.

Results: The open-ended question was completed by 112 participants, aged 18 to 85 years. Sensory descriptors were reported as single words (73%) or in phrases (52%). Fourteen categories emerged with neuropathic descriptors used by 40 participants (33%) including sub-categories of pins and needles (14%), burning (8%) and mechanical allodynia (21%). Tightness was the most commonly reported sensory descriptor (43%) by participants followed by itch (38%).

Conclusion: The findings provide unique insights into the diversity of sensory experiences patients report in relation to their burn scars, which extend beyond itch and pain. Reporting of neuropathic burn descriptors should be included in patient reported outcome measures (PROMs) to facilitate comprehensive assessment and enable development of novel, and individualised interventions.


Naomi Davis has over 12 years working within the health sector in public, not for profit and private sectors. She has recently completed studies in Occupational Therapy and undertaken an honours research project in collaboration with the Brisbane Burns Research Centre, the University of Queensland and the Australian Catholic University.

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