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Skin Grafts in Children: What to Expect at Home

Location of some common sites on the body for donor skin, with detail of meshed skin graft covering wound

Your Child's Recovery

Skin grafts are small sections of healthy skin removed from one part of the body (donor site) and put on another part. Grafts can be used to treat skin damaged by burns, infection, or other injury.

Your child will have a bandage over the skin graft. The area may be sore for 1 to 2 weeks. Keep the area of the skin graft dry while it heals, unless your doctor gives you other instructions. If you can, prop up the area of your child's body that has the skin graft. Keeping it raised will reduce swelling and fluid buildup, which can cause problems with the graft.

Your child also will have a bandage on the donor site. The donor site can hurt during recovery. Your child may have a special type of bandage on it to help reduce pain. He or she may get a shot of long-lasting pain medicine in the area.

If the graft was placed on your child's legs, arms, hands, or feet, your child may need physiotherapy to prevent scar tissue from limiting movement. This therapy is very important. It may include wearing splints and doing stretches and range-of-motion exercises. These may be painful, but they help your child to heal properly.

It may take months for your child to regain some feeling in the grafted area. The feeling will be different than it was before the injury.

Your child may not have sweat glands in the skin graft area. If the grafted area is large, this may make it hard for the area to cool off when your child is hot. The grafted area may not have oil glands. This can make the skin graft dry and flaky. After the graft heals, you may need to use lotion to keep the skin moist. The skin graft may not grow hair.

Your child's care team will check the skin graft often to make sure that it's healing well. Sometimes the skin graft doesn't work. If this happens, your child may need another one.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

  • Help your child rest when he or she feels tired.
  • Encourage your child to be active. Walking is a good choice, unless the grafted area is on the foot or leg.
  • Help your child avoid activity that stretches the skin graft for at least 3 weeks after surgery, unless your doctor gives you other instructions.
  • Your doctor will tell you when your child can take a shower. Do not let your child take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Do not allow your child to do strenuous activity until your doctor says it is okay. This includes riding bikes, playing running games, wrestling, and taking part in gym class.

Diet

  • Your child can eat a normal diet. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Help your child eat a well-balanced diet with enough protein to help the wound heal. Protein is a key nutrient in helping to repair damaged tissue and promote new tissue growth. Good sources of protein are milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, and beans.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice a change in your child's bowel habits right after surgery. This is common. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, call the doctor.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

Skin graft and donor site care

  • Leave the bandages on the skin graft and donor site until your doctor says you can take them off. You probably will get instructions on how to change the bandages. Follow these instructions closely.
  • Keep the area clean and dry, unless your doctor tells you differently.
  • Do not let your child rub the skin graft for 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Cover your child's skin graft and donor sites to keep them from sunlight. Use sunscreen on the sites when the doctor says you can. This helps to prevent a permanent change of colour in the grafted skin.
  • After the graft heals, use lotion regularly to keep the area moist.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has chest pain, is short of breath, or coughs up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has pain that does not get better after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has loose stitches, or the skin graft comes loose.
  • Your child has bleeding from the skin graft or donor site.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Your child is sick to his or her stomach or can't keep fluids down.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter S235 in the search box to learn more about "Skin Grafts in Children: What to Expect at Home".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.