Burns are thermal (heat), electrical, chemical or radiation-induced injuries to the skin and underlying tissues. Burns are very common injuries especially among those who work in kitchens and and in industries where employees handle hot liquids or hot machineries.
Types of burns
Burns can be classified according to cause and according to the depth of affected tissues. The different types of burns according to cause are the following:
- Thermal burn - Thermal burns happen when the body is exposed to extreme heat like hot fluids, fire, steam, burning cigarettes, charcoal, and others. Thermal burns are the most common type of burn.
- Electrical burn - Electrical burns happen when the body is exposed to electrical current like when one is struck with lightning or accidentally touches an exposed electrical wire.
- Chemical burn - Chemical burns happen when the body is exposed to strong chemicals like strong acids or strong bases, which can be corrosive to the skin.
- Radiation burn - Radiation burns are caused by exposure to high-intensity radiations such as radiation treatment for cancer or exposure to nuclear materials such as waste.
- Friction burn - Friction burns are a special type of burns in that they are a combination of abrasive forces and heat. Friction burns happen when the body scrapes through hard, uneven surfaces such as skidding on the road or on the carpet.
Burns can also be classified according to the depth of injury.
- First-degree burn - First-degree burns are the mildest type of burn that involves only the uppermost layer of the skin. This type of burn is characterized by pain and redness on the affected area. The most common example of first-degree burn are sunburns.
- Second-degree burn - Second-degree burns involve the uppermost layer of the skin and part of the deeper layers of the skin. This type of burn is usually associated by severe pain, swelling, blister formation, and a red or white discoloration of the skin.
- Third-degree burn - Third-degree burns involve the full thickness of the skin and the underlying muscles and bones. Third degree burns are usually devoid of pain because the nerves are injured along with the skin and the underlying tissues. The burns appear charred black or white.
Most burns can be adequately managed at home. Here are some suggestions when managing minor burns:
- Cool the burn area immediately by putting it under running water.
- Avoid popping blisters as that will increase risk of infection.
- Remove any jewelry or item of clothing that is near the burned area.
- Apply moisturizer like Vaseline or Petroleum jelly to the burned area.
- Take pain medications as needed.
- Renew your tetanus shot if you have not had one within the past 10 years,
- Elevate the burned area above the level of the heart to prevent it from swelling.
- Apply sterile dressings daily if necessary.
When to seek to consult
Although most minor burns can be adequately managed at home, some burns do require immediate consult to the doctor (Dermatologist or Plastic Surgeon). These include:
- All third-degree burns
- All electrical burns
- Burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitals, or any joint
- Large burns that involve more than 25% of any body part
- Burns in children 5 years or younger
- Infected burns
Major burns are treated in the hospital-setting and may require specialist consultation with a Dermatologist or Plastic Surgeon. The treatment of these burns include the following goals:
- Maintain adequate hydration, which is usually done by inserting an intravenous line
- Promote healing of the wound, which can be done by:
- Removing dead tissues (which is often done surgically)
- Keeping the wound clean and free from infection (by cleaning it daily and by giving antibiotics)
- Providing cover to the exposed tissues either in the form of dressings or in the form of skin grafts
- Prevent contractures by maintaining proper positioning of the burned body part and by exercising the body part as it heals.
Burn wounds are painful and deforming injuries that can be prevented. Here are some suggestions on how burns can be prevented:
- Use sunblock when swimming or when going out in the sun to prevent sunburns
- Use protective gears when working with hot objects or strong chemicals.
- Keep flammable objects or strong chemicals in places that cannot be accessed by little children.
- Cover electrical outlets at home to protect children.
- Invest in a good fire extinguisher.
- Check the functionality of your smoke detectors regularly.
- Develop a fire exit plan and teach this to your children.