All About Burns

What Is A Burn?

A burn can be defined as an injury where damage is caused to the body’s tissue by heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight or radiation.  Scalds resulting from steam, hot liquid, building fires, use of flammable liquids and gasses are the most common causes of burns.  Another type of burn that is internal is known as inhalation injury and this is a result of smoke inhalation.

What Are The Types Of Burns?

A burn can fall into one of three different categories: first-degree burns, second-degree burns and third-degree burns.

The first-degree burn is a superficial type of burn and can result in local inflammation of the skin.  Common first-degree burns include sunburn where the inflammation is characterized by redness, pain and slight swelling.  The skin will be quite sensitive to touch, but it can heal quickly without need for additional medical assistance.

The second-degree burn occurs when damage is caused to the outer layer of skin and the layer beneath the outer layer of skin.  This type of burn is similar to the first-degree burn with pain, redness and inflammation; however, the deeper damage causes a blistering of the skin.

The third-degree burns are the most dangerous of all types of burns and occur when the deepest layer of skin and skin tissues are destroyed.  This means that all layers of skin are burned, in effect killing the area of skin that has been damaged.  Due to the nerves and blood vessels being so severely damaged, a third-degree burn may appear white and leathery.  Furthermore, the destruction of the nerves makes the burn painless.

How Can Burns Be Treated?

As can be seen, burns result in blistering, swelling, scarring, and in the most severe cases, shock or death.  Furthermore, a burn can result in infections due to the fact that they destroy the skin’s protective barrier.  A treatment for burns will dependent entirely on the cause of the burn, the type of burn (depth of the burn), and how much of the skin has been burned.  Typically, antibiotic creams can be used to treat and prevent infections; however, for third-degree burns, treatment will be needed to clean the wound, replace the skin and ensure the patient has fluids and nutrition.

According to statistics, approximately 4,000 individuals die on an annual basis from burn injuries in the United States.  Burns are the leading type of childhood injury with causes ranging from scalding from hot liquids or steam to overexposure to sunlight.  Burns can also be electrical or chemical with some cases having burns caused by spilling bleach on the individual’s skin.

• Minor Burns

When treating minor burns, it is essential that you remove the individual from the source of the burn and remove any burned clothing.  Of course, clothing that is embedded in the burn should be left alone because removal could cause further injury.

Contrary to popular belief, cool water must be poured over the burn and not cold water.  A cold compress is also beneficial for minor burns, but do not use ice or butter as this can cause more pain.

When treating a minor burn, it is important that all jewelry and tight clothing is removed from around the burned areas before apply clean bandages.  Antibiotic creams can also be applied, but this needs to be done with caution to avoid applying creams that could cause allergic reactions.

While minor burns can be dealt with without medical assistance, it is recommended that you seek emergency assistance if the burn is serious or the person has been burned on a sensitive part of the body (eyes, mouth, hands or genitalia).  Furthermore, if the burn covers a large area, it would be best to contact emergency care.  If you or the burn victim displays the following symptoms it would also be recommended to contact medical care immediately.

– fever

– excessive inflammation or swelling

– redness appearance of the skin

– blister filled with brown or green fluid

– foul-smelling or pus-like drainage from a blister

It is important to remember that blisters from burns should not be broken or popped.  Removing clothing stuck to burned skin is also not recommended as this can cause further injury to the burn area.  If you are assisting a person who has suffered from a severe burn, it is advised to keep the burned areas raised to reduce inflammation.  Burns can result from scalding, chemical burns, electrical burns, fires and excessive exposure to sunlight.

In addition, knowing what to do should you or your clothing catch alight can be helpful.  This is where the “stop, drop and roll” technique comes in useful.  Stop means you stop running.  Drop refers to dropping to the floor immediately.  Roll refers to rolling back and forth while covering your face and hands in order to smother the flames.  If you are assisting a person who has been burned, remove the individual from danger first unless this action will place you in danger of being burned as well.

• Chemical And Electrical Burns

When dealing with chemical and electrical burns, it is recommended that you contact your local medical emergency facility or 911.  Always assess the situation to ensure that you and the burn victim will not be in contact with the source of the burn.  For electrical burn cases, do not approach the victim until you are certain the electrical power source has been shut off.  If you do approach them beforehand you will be placing both you and the individual in danger of further burns.

A chemical burn can be best treated dependent on the type of chemical causing the burn.  Dry chemicals can be brushed from the skin by gloves, whereas wet chemicals will need to be cleaned off the affected areas with cool running water for approximately twenty minutes (or more) until medical assistance arrives.  Removing the individual’s clothing and jewelry is necessary before rinsing off the chemicals.  It is essential that you protect your face and the victim’s face because chemicals can still affect eyes, nose and mouth when being cleared off.

If a chemical substance has been swallowed, it is vital that you contact poison control (1-800-222-1222) and emergency medical services.  It is necessary to know what the product was and take it with you to the hospital.

A minor electrical burn is typically treated as all other minor burns with a cool compress.  Once cleaned, an antibiotic lotion can be applied with clean bandages.  Tetanus shots are also recommended to avoid infection, particularly if the person has not received a shot in the past ten years.

If the electrical burn is more severe, it is necessary to first check that the person is breathing correctly.  If there is no sign of breathing, begin rescue breathing or CPR if you are have knowledge of it.  When breathing has returned, raise the burned arms and legs above the individual’s heart and place cool wet cloths on the burned areas.  Remember, do not remove any burned skin or pop any blisters.  Sunburn with excessive blistering may require medical assistance with physician evaluation.

• Skin Grafting

Inflammation and blistering characteristics of burns are a result of damaged blood vessels and the loss of fluid from this damage.  In third-degree burn cases, the fluid loss can bring about shock in the victim and an immediate blood transfusion with extra fluids is required to assist in maintaining blood pressure.  Burns can also result in different types of infections because the skin’s protective barrier is now destroyed.  Typically, topical antibiotics are used to prevent the infection but this needs to be added quickly and persistently to have any effect.  It has been found that grafting with natural materials can quicken the post-burn healing procedure.

There are two different types of skin grafts – the autologous skin graft and the allograft skin graft.  The autologous skin graft involves a transference of skin from one part of the individuals’ body to the burned area; whereas, the allograft skin graft involves transference of skin from one person to the affected burned area of another person.  It has been seen that allograft skin grafts use cadavers for the skin graft base.

To perform a skin graft, the scientist will take cells from the epidermal layer of skin and grow them into larger sheets of cells in a laboratory.  Unfortunately, no knowledge of how to grow lower layers of skin is available; therefore, surgeons need to cover the affected area with artificial material after removing the burned skin and then add the developed cell sheets.  This process assists in encouraging the development of new skin.

Final Words On Burns

Burns are arguably one of the most common types of household injuries, particularly among children.  The term refers to more than the burning sensation associated with the injury, but also to the skin damage caused by the burn resulting in skin cells being destroyed.  The majority of people are able to recover from burns without any severe health consequences; however, this is highly dependent on the type of burn and its cause.  A more serious type of burn will require immediate medical care to avoid any further health complications or potentially death.

A burn is defined as damage to the skin and other skin tissues.  While the majority of burns are caused by heat from hot liquids or solids, there are burns that a result of electricity or chemicals.  Statistics show that females present with a higher risk to burns because of the frequent use of cooking fires or unsafe cooking appliances.  Burns are also high-risk accidents among people who smoke and drink excessive amounts of alcohol.  Furthermore burns occur as a result of violent relationships and self-harm.

Burns affecting the upper layer of skin are relatively superficial and are known as first-degree burns.  They will appear red without any blisters and can be painful to touch for approximately three days.  Of course, if the injury reaches the underlying skin layers it can be considered a second-degree burn.  Second-degree burns will present with blisters which can be painful to the touch and will require at least 8-10 weeks to heal.  Furthermore, this type of burn can cause scarring.

If, however, the burn extends to all layers of skin the burn can be considered a third-degree burn.  This type of burn does not present with any pain and is white in color.  Healing is not possible without medical assistance and severe scarring can be experience.  A fourth-degree burn type can occur when injury is experienced by muscles, tendons and bones.  In this case, the burn is black in color and will typically result in loss of the burned area.