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Introduction to Burns

Burns refer to the injury to the body caused by extreme heat or cold, electricity or chemicals. Burns caused by extreme heat or fire occur more commonly than those caused due to electricity or chemicals. Immediate medical attention is required to prevent further damage and complications.


Types of Burns

Burns are categorized as thermal, electrical and chemical burns based on the cause of the injury. Injuries caused due to extreme heat or fire is included in the thermal injury while those caused due to electricity, chemicals, radiation and extreme cold are grouped as nonthermal injuries.

Burns are also classified as first, second and third degree burns based on the severity of the injury. First-degree burn is a mild type of skin injury wherein only the outer layer (epidermis) of the skin is involved while second degree burn involves the outer and inner layers (dermis) of the skin. Third degree burn is the most severe form and the injury extends deep into the tissues along with the outer and inner layers of the skin.1,2 


Causes of Burns

Burns are usually caused by fire, boiling water, hot objects or oil and electrical shocks. Most individuals are injured due to incidences such as accidental fire breakouts at home or outside, and accidental contact with hot substances such as metals, boiling liquids etc. Electrical injury is also mostly accidental. These kind of injuries may sometimes be self- induced or by others intentionally and becomes a medico-legal issue in such cases.

The risk factors for burns include improper handling of fire in kitchens and industries, improper storage of inflammable substances and unsafe electrical attachments.1–3    


Signs and Symptoms of Burns

The signs and symptoms of burn injuries to the body vary with the severity of the burn. First-degree burn causes redness (erythema) and swelling of the skin while second degree burn injuries result in pain and formation of fluid filled eruptions (blisters) at the burnt area of the body. Severe burns (third degree) leads to peeling away of skin, redness, swelling and white or burnt (charred) skin. Pain is not observed in third degree burns as the nerve endings that transmit pain are also burnt in the injury process. The individual in cases of moderate-to-severe burn is usually in a state of shock.1,2,3


Diagnosis of Burns

Burns are diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms observed and physical examination. The degree of burns and the severity of the condition are determined based on the extent of damage observed.


Treatment of Burns

The area with very mild type of burns should first be held under running cold water or soaked in cold water for about 5 min. The burnt area can also be covered with a clean, wet cloth for a few minutes. Following this, the area must be covered with a dry, clean clothing or sterile bandage. Certain moisturizing lotions or ointments may also be applied over the burnt area. Pain and inflammation can be reduced by taking certain over-the-counter pain-relieving medications such as ibuprofen.

Moderate and severe burns

Second- and third-degree burns are to be treated at the hospital only. Life-threatening conditions such as airway block, shock or heart abnormalities are accordingly dealt by following life-saving measures. Once the individual becomes stable, the severity of the injuries is determined and appropriate steps are followed. Severe burns leads to loss of body fluids. The fluid loss is determined and appropriate measures are taken by the doctors and hospital staff to revive the fluids. The condition of the individual is monitored on a regular basis till the individual recovers. Along with these steps, the doctor can advise certain medications either to be applied on the injuries or to be taken orally to counter the pain and inflammatory responses observed.1,2,3


Complications of Burns

The complications may vary from mild infections at the injured site to life-threatening situations such as heart attack. The injury may involve various organs of the body and present with corresponding complications based on the effect of the injury over the functioning of that particular organ. This includes disturbances in the mental stability, circulation, heart function, eyes and ears, kidney function and the musculoskeletal system. Another complication is the formation of scars over the healing areas, which may be a cosmetic complication or may also result in physical disability.


Prevention for Burns

All inflammable and harmful chemical substances must be properly labeled and safely stored away from the reach of children. Proper safety precautions must be followed at work place and home while handling such substances. All electrical appliances must be carefully used and the electrical attachments must be fixed properly.

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: October 01, 2012