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Burns: Information and First Aid Treatment

  • Synopsis: Published: 2015-02-15 (Revised/Updated 2017-11-02) - Causes and types of burns including first aid treatment for a burn - Thomas C. Weiss (Disabled World).
Third-Degree Burn

A third-degree burn is referred to as a full thickness burn. This type of burn destroys the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and the entire layer beneath (or dermis) and may go into the subcutaneous tissue. The burn site may appear white or charred.

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Quote: "While some minor burns are not a reason to become concerned and may be treated safely in a person's home, other more serious burns do require medical attention."

From people washing their hands under water from the kitchen faucet that is too hot to a burn from a spill of hot tea, burns are a potential hazard in everyone's home. Burns; in fact - particularly scalds from hot water and other liquids, are some of the most common accidents in the home. Young children and babies are especially susceptible to these kinds of burns. They are small, curious and have sensitive skin that requires extra protection.

While some minor burns are not a reason to become concerned and may be treated safely in a person's home, other more serious burns do require medical attention. Yet taking some simple precautions to make your home safer might prevent burns. Awareness of the common causes of burns is a great first thing for people to understand.

Common Causes of Burns

Understanding the common causes of burns helps people to avoid being burned. Children in particular need to be aware of these causes. Among the common causes of burns are:

  • Electrical burns
  • Chemical burns
  • Contact with hot objects or flames
  • Scalds, which are the number one type of burn people experience

The severity of burns people experience, either while in the kitchen or elsewhere are, 'typed.' The type of burn a person experiences will greatly affect the treatment required. What follows are types of burns.

Types of Burns People Experience

Burns are categorized as first, second, or third degree depending upon how badly the person's skin has been damaged. Each of the common burns people experience may cause any of these three types of burns. Yet both the type of the burn and the cause of it determine how the burn is treated. Every burn should be treated promptly to reduce the temperature of the burned area on the person's body and to reduce damage to their skin and underlying tissues if the burn is severe.

First-Degree Burns: First degree burns are considered to be the, 'mildest,' and are limited to the top layer of the person's skin. The burns produce pain, redness and mild swelling. The person's skin is dry and has not blistered. The time it takes to heal is between 3-6 days. The person's superficial skin layer over the burn might peel off in a day or two.

Second-Degree Burns: Second degree burns are definitely more serious and involve the skin layers beneath the top layer of skin. The burns cause severe pain, blisters and redness. The blisters at times break open and the area appears wet looking with a bright pink to cherry red color. The time it takes to heal from a second degree burn depends upon the severity of the burn. Healing may take 3 weeks, or even longer.

Third-Degree Burns: Third degree burns are the most serious type of burn and involve all of the layers of a person's skin as well as underlying tissues. The surface of the person's skin may appear leathery, waxy white, charred, or brown. The person may experience little or even no pain in the area affected, although it may feel numb at first due to nerve damage. The time it takes to heal depends upon the severity of the burn. Deep second and third degree burns or, 'full-thickens burns,' most likely will require treatment with skin grafts. A skin graft involves taking healthy skin from another part of the person's body and surgically placing it over the burn wound to help the affected area heal.

Types of Burns and Medical Care

Once a person has experienced a type of burn, seeking medical attention immediately is very important. You should pursue medical care for a burn immediately when:

  • The burn appears to be infected
  • The burn is from chemicals, fire, or an electrical socket or wire
  • You believe the affected person has a second or third degree burn
  • The burn is on a person's scalp, face, hands, joint surfaces, or their genitals
  • The burned area is large, such as 2-3 inches or more, even if it appears to be a minor burn

For any burn that seems to cover more than 10% of a person's body - call for medical help. Do not use a wet compress or ice because these may cause the person's body temperature to drop. Instead, cover the burned area of the person's skin with a clean and soft towel or cloth.

First Degree Burns and Medical Care

Even though some of the steps and suggestions below might seem to be obvious, it is important to remember and follow them. Infection and/or scarring may occur if these steps are not followed:

  • Remove the person from the source of the burn
  • Remove clothing from the burned area of skin immediately
  • Protect the burn with a sterile gauze pad or bandage for 24 hours
  • Run cool, not cold, water over the burned area of the person's skin
  • Administer ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain related to the burn
  • Hold a clean cold compress over the burned area for between 3-5 minutes
  • If the burn area is small, such as the size of a dime or a quarter, keep it clean
  • Apply aloe Vera cream or gel to the affected area; do this a few times each day

DO NOT apply grease, butter, powder, or any other form of remedy to the person's burn, they may make the burn deeper and add further destruction to the person's skin while increasing the risk of infection.

Second and Third Degree Burns and Medical Care

Second degree burns are certainly no joke. These burns will most likely blister, increasing a person's chance for infection if they are popped. Important things to do related to second degree burns include:

  • Pursue emergency medical attention
  • DO NOT break any of the blisters that may appear
  • Follow the instructions above for first degree burns
  • Keep the person lying down with the area that has been burned elevated
  • Apply cool water over the burn area for at least 3-5 minutes and then cover the area with a clean dry cloth or sheet until medical help arrives

It is also important to remove any clothing or jewelry from around the burn in case there is any swelling, except for clothing that is stuck to the person's skin. If you have trouble removing clothing you might need to cut it off, or wait for medical assistance.

Medical Care and Flame, Electrical, or Chemical Burns

Burns are not always caused by hot fluids, for example. People also experience burns from flame, electrical and chemical sources. These types of burns can be very serious, even life-threatening. Having some idea of how to treat a person who has been burned is vital.

Flame Burns:

  • Cover the person with a blanket or a jacket
  • Put out the flames by having the person roll on the ground
  • Remove smoldering clothes and any jewelry from around the area that has been burned
  • Promptly call for medical assistance and follow the instructions for second and third degree burns

Electrical and Chemical Burns:

  • For chemical burns, flush the area with plenty of running water for 5 minutes or longer
  • If the chemically burned area is large, use a shower, tub, garden hose, or buckets of water
  • Chemical burns to a person's eyes or mouth require prompt medical evaluation after a thorough flushing with water
  • Make very sure the person is not in contact with the electrical source before you touch them or you might also get shocked
  • DO NOT remove any of the burned person's clothing before you have started flushing the burn with water; as you continue to flush the burned area you can remove clothing from the area

While electrical and chemical burns may not always be visible, they can indeed be very serious because of the potential for damage to the person's internal organs. The symptoms can vary depending on the type and severity of the burn and the cause and might include abdominal pain. If you think a person may have swallowed a chemical substance or an object that could be harmful such as a hearing aid battery, call poison control first and then call the emergency department.

It helps to know what chemical the person has been exposed to or swallowed. You might need to take it with you to the hospital. Keep the phone number for poison control in an accessible place such as on your refrigerator door.

Related Information:

  1. Homeopathy Natural Treatment for Burns - Joette Calabrese - (2009-01-22)
  2. Burn Injuries from House Fires - Coppola & Marlin - (2010-10-03)
  3. Serious Burns from Car Seat Heaters - While they may provide some comfort, they pose grave risks of causing severe burns to paraplegics, quadriplegics, or others who have sensory deficits of the lower body and legs.

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