What are burns?
A burn is a type of injury to the skin or flesh that is caused by heat, friction, chemicals or radiation. Burns that are extensive or deep can be fatal but modern treatment methods have improved the outcome and the longterm outcome generally depends on the size of the burn and the age of the patient. Only the epidermis, which is the uppermost layer of the skin, has the ability to regenerate. So burns that are deeper can cause permanent scarring.
Types of burns
Burns are generally classified into 3 categories according to the layers of skin that have been affected. These are the 3 types of burns:
First Degree Burns
First degree burns are usually caused by a short exposure to a flame or hot water. This type of a burn does not result in a blister and the affected area becomes tender and there may be slight peeling in 3 to 5 days. There is rarely any need for treatment as only the epidermis is affected and the deeper layers of skin remain unharmed.
Second Degree Burns
Second degree burns are usually caused by exposure to higher temperatures such as in the case of flash flames, chemicals and steam. This type of a burn results in moist or oozing blisters which are very sore and painful. Second degree burns affect the epithelium as well as the upper portions of the dermis and require treatment to minimize scarring and prevent infection. It can take between 5 days to a month for these skin burns to heal depending on the extent of the injury and the individualís health status. Deep second degree burns will require excision and skin grafting.
Third Degree Burns
Third degree burns are generally caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or chemicals. This type of burn does not result in a blister; instead the skin takes on a leathery texture devoid of elasticity. Third degree burns result in the complete destruction of all the layers of skin. If only a small area has been affected, it could take a couple of months for the wound to heal but larger third degree burns would require extensive skin grafting. Although these burns are very severe, there is little or no pain as pain receptors are located in the upper layers of skin.
Do's and Don'ts of Burn Emergencies
- Donít use ice or an ice pack for burns; instead, hold it under cold running water for 5 to 10 minutes. If this is not possible, immerse the burn in cool water or use a cold compress.
- Donít use butter, grease or any type of oil on the burn; instead, apply a first aid cream for burns to the area (only after you have allowed it to cool sufficiently under running water). A very common practice seen is the application of tooth paste over burns, this has no scientific basis and may be dangerous.
- Donít use cotton or any fluffy dressing to cover the burn; instead, lightly bind the area with a sterile gauze bandage. Donít burst blisters; instead, make sure that they remain intact for as long as possible as they form a natural barrier and prevent the burn from getting infected.
- Donít remove burnt clothing that is stuck to the skin; instead, make sure that there is no portion of the cloth that is smoldering and get the cloth removed by a physician; Donít try to self-treat an infected burn; instead, visit your doctor immediately to prevent further complications. Swelling, pus and fever are three of the most common symptoms of an infected wound.
Treatments for Minor Burns
- There are several home remedies for burns that will reduce the amount of time it takes for the wound to heal. Apply a thin layer of honey to a strip of gauze and use this to bandage your burn. Several studies found that this remedy was better than conventional bandages and greatly reduced the risk of infection and helped the wounds heal faster.
- Aloe vera is another popular herb that is often touted as the cure to all problems. In the case of skin inflammation and burns however, these claims have been supported by evidence from clinical trials and studies. Several studies have shown that the application of aloe gel can help significantly in the healing of burn wounds.
- Refrigerate a couple of used tea bags and then place them over the burn. Use a clean strip of gauze to hold them in place. This remedy will reduce the pain and inflammation. Skip your hot showers and opt for cool showers instead as this too will help to reduce the inflammation.
- Vinegar is very effective in treating burns. Mix equal amounts of vinegar and water. Soak a paper napkin in the diluted vinegar and place it gently over the burn for a few minutes before taking it off and rinsing the burn under running water. Vinegar acts as a mild antiseptic and will reduce the risk of an infection.
First Aid for Burns
It is important to know what to do for burns as timely first aid will greatly reduce the severity of the burn and prevent scarring. There are 3 basic first aid tips for burns that you should follow:
- Cool the burn immediately: Place the burn under cool running water to conduct heat away from the area and reduce swelling. Do this for at least 10 minutes even if the pain starts to subside before that. If you are in an area that does not have running water, immerse the affected area in a bowl of cool water. If the burn on your arm or leg is extensive, do not submerge your limb in cold water as this could lead to hypothermia.
- Bandage the burn: Apply an ointment for burns or a burn gel and use sterile gauze to gently and lightly wrap the area. A well-wrapped burn dressing will help to protect your blistered skin and prevent infection. You can use l to
- Take Over-the-counter Pain medication: Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol will reduce your pain and discomfort. If you are currently on other medicines, talk to your doctor to make sure that there is no chance of a drug interaction.
These first aid measures should only be used in the case of first degree and minor second degree burns. Serious burns require emergency medical intervention.
- Store gasoline, lighter fluid and other highly flammable materials in a safe and secure container.
- Do not smoke in bed.
- Prevent electrical fires by using fuses in your electrical boxes along with insulated electrical wires. Never overload outlets.
- Extremely hot bath water can cause serious injury in less than a second! Always check the temperature of the water before you step into the shower.
- Hot oil can catch fire and if this happens, do not try to move the pan off the stove but instead turn off the stove and cover the pan with a lid to smother the flames.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in an easily accessible spot in your kitchen.
- While cooking, avoid wearing clothes with long loose sleeves.
- Keep clothes irons and curling irons out of the reach of children.
It is important to remember that a burn may mature within a couple of hours. It can then involve the deeper layers of skin and so it is possible for a first degree burn to become a second degree burn. It is therefore advisable to contact your doctor if the pain persists or if there is any sign of infection.