Definition

What is burn?

Burn can be caused by many factors, and is one of the most common household injuries. More than just a burning sensation, burn can be characterized as severe skin damage that causes affected and/ or surrounding cells to die. Burn can be classified into the below categories, based on the severity of tissue damage:

  • First-degree burn: this type only affects the outermost, the first layer (epidermis) of the skin, resulting in pain and redness. One classical example is mild sunburn.
  • Second-degree burn: this type extends to the second layer of the skin (dermis). The results can be the pain, redness, and blisters that may ooze.
  • Third-degree burn: this type involves both layers of the skin and may extend to the underlying bones, muscles and tendons. The injured site may seem pale or charred. However, as it has not extended to the nerves, pain is usually not felt. These burns require immediate medical attention.
  • Fourth-degree burn: this type is the most severe as it affects the skin into the muscle, bone and possibly nerves. These burns are stiff and charred and require immediate medical attention.

Skin is the natural barrier and first line of defense for the body; burns can destroy that protection. All kind of burns, regardless of severity, if not treated properly may cause severe complications.

How common is burn?

This health condition can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of burn?

The common symptoms of burn are:

  • First-degree burn: redness; minor inflammation, or swelling; pain; dry, peeling skin occurs as the burn heals.
  • Second-degree burn: blister and become extremely red and sore. Some blisters pop open, giving the burn a wet or weeping appearance. Over time, thick, soft, scab-like tissue called fibrinous exudate may develop over the wound.
  • Third-degree & fourth-degree burn: waxy and white color; char; dark brown color; raised and leathery texture; blisters that do not develop.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Burns that cover the hands, feet, face, sensitive areas, a major joint or a large area of the body.
  • Deep burns.
  • Burns caused by chemicals or electricity.
  • Difficulty breathing or burns to the airway.
  • Signs of infection, such as oozing from the wound, increased pain, redness, and swelling.
  • A burn or blister that does not heal for long.
  • Significant scarring.
  • Burn happens for a child younger than 5, an older adult, or a person with a weak immune system or a chronic health problem (such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes).

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes burn?

These are many causes of burn that you may know, including:

  • Heat burns (thermal burns): caused by fire, steam, hot objects, or hot liquids.
  • Cold temperature burns: caused by exposure to wet, windy, or cold conditions.
  • Electrical burns: caused by contact with electrical sources or by lightning.
  • Chemical burns: caused by contact with household or industrial chemicals in a liquid, solid, or gas form. Natural foods such as chili peppers, which contain a substance irritating to the skin, can cause a burning sensation.
  • Radiation burns: caused by the sun, tanning booths, sunlamps, X-rays, or radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
  • Friction burns: caused by contact with any hard surface such as roads, carpets, or gym floor surfaces.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for burn?

There are many risk factors for burn, such as:

  • Wood stoves, exposed heating sources, or electrical cords
  • Unsafe storage of flammable or caustic materials
  • Careless smoking
  • Child abuse
  • Hot water heater set above 54.4°C
  • Heated foods and containers
  • Too much exposure to the sun

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is burn diagnosed?

During diagnosis, a doctor will evaluate the depth and extent of the damage, the degree of pain, the amount of swelling, and signs of infection. Burns that cover a significant portion of the body burns associated with smoke inhalation, burns from electrical injuries, and burns associated with suspected physical abuse require immediate emergency medical attention. Examination for other injuries and to determine whether the burn has affected the rest of your body will also be conducted. You may require undergoing lab tests, X-rays or other diagnostic procedures.

How is burn treated?

Treatment depends on the type and extent of the injuries. Most minor burns can be treated at home using over-the-counter products or aloe, and they usually heal very fast.

For serious burns, after first aid care, additional treatment such as medications, wound dressings, therapy, and surgery might be required. This is to alleviate pain, remove dead tissue, prevent infection, reduce scarring, regain function and address emotional needs.

For major burns, various medications and products are used to encourage healing.

  • Water-based treatments: techniques such as ultrasound mist therapy to clean and stimulate the wound tissue.
  • Fluids: such as intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration and organ failure.
  • Pain and anxiety medications: such as morphine and anti-anxiety medications as healing burn can be particularly painful.
  • Burn creams and ointments: these topical products ensure the wound moist, reduce pain, prevent infection and speed healing.
  • Dressings: this is to create a moist environment that fights infection and helps the burn heal.
  • Drugs that fight infection: such as IV antibiotics.
  • Tetanus shot: tetanus shot after a burn injury might be recommended.
  • Physical and occupational therapy.

If the burned area is large, especially if it covers any joints, physical therapy exercises are required to help stretch the skin and allow the joints to remain flexible. Other exercises can improve muscle strength and coordination. If you encounter difficulty with normal daily activities, occupational therapy will be recommended.

For major burns, other additional procedures following surgery ranging from breathing assistance, tube feeding to plastic surgery might be in place to ensure the healing of the wound, adequate function of the affected organs and reconstruction of the appearance of the affected areas.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage burn?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with minor burn:

  • Cool the burn: run the burn under cool water tap for 10 to 15 minutes until the pain subsides. You can also apply a clean towel dampened with cool tap water. You must not use ice as applying ice directly on a burn can cause further damage.
  • Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area: do this quickly but gently.
  • Don’t break small blisters: if blisters break, gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a nonstick gauze bandage.
  • Apply moisturizer or aloe vera lotion or gel: this may soothe the area and prevent dryness.
  • If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever: nonprescription products include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
  • Consider a tetanus shot: make sure that your tetanus booster is up to date. Doctors recommend people get a tetanus shot at least every 10 years.
  • Whether your burn was minor or serious, use sunscreen and moisturizer regularly once the wound is healed.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: February 3, 2017 | Last Modified: February 3, 2017

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