Hydrocarbon burns: Psychiatric and metabolic considerations to management

Dr Emma-Leigh Rudduck1

1Royal Adelaide Hospital, , Australia


Volatile substance misuse, particularly the inhalation of hydrocarbons, is a growing issue globally. Consequences of VSM include cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, metabolic and central nervous system damage. Whilst the effects of hydrocarbon abuse have been reported, the combination of intoxication with hydrocarbon and burns sustained has not yet been presented. A retrospective case series of patients who presented in the last 5 years to the Royal Adelaide Hospital with hydrocarbon-related burns in the context of illicit use was undertaken. Our aims are to present to the wider scientific community the high morbidity and mortality of hydrocarbon burn injuries and why this tertiary Burns Unit feel it most appropriate to medically stabilise these patients prior to definitive surgery for their burn. All patients that presented with acute hydrocarbon intoxication and sustained concomitant burns had significant psychiatric disorder and substance abuse history and three of five had either not eaten in several days resulting in acute malnourishment, refeeding syndrome or had evidence of chronic malnourishment with delayed electrolytes and hypoalbuminaemia. As a consequence, their definitive burns surgery was delayed where appropriate in order to facilitate medical stabilisation as they were too high risk of cardiac membrane instability, electrolyte derangement and/or respiratory compromise to undergo safe general anaesthetic and burns debridement. We propose a multidisciplinary team approach, utilising not only our Burns Unit care model of physiotherapists, psychologists, social work and burns trained nurses and surgeons but also Intensive Care, Toxicology, Addiction medicine and General Medical physicians in the management of these patients.


Dr Emma-Leigh Rudduck is the current plastic and reconstructive surgery unaccredited Registrar in the Northern Territory. She undertook her medical degree at Melbourne University before training in Victoria and South Australia.

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