Heat, chemical, or electrical injury to the skin, nerves, blood vessels, and internal organs can cause burns. Burns that involve the hands, face, feet, genitals, or cover an extremity (arm or leg) or the chest are particularly dangerous. This article is designed as an introduction to burns; there are books and special journals devoted to burned patient's and their care; we urge the reader to visit the first two references below for additional information.
The severity of a burn determines the symptoms a person who is burned experiences.
- First-degree burns cause red skin and local pain only. Sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn.
- Second-degree burns cause blisters and have more pronounced swelling. The skin may slough (peel).
- Third-degree burns cause white or black charred skin and loss of pain sensitivity (insensate) because of nerve damage in the deeper tissues. When encompassing (completely around) an extremity (arm or leg), these burns can constrict and cut off circulation, leading to limb loss.
- "Burn or smoke-exposed" patients may develop shortness of breath; inhalation of smoke and toxins may cause death, even if they have little or no skin burns. This shortness of breath is a medical emergency, even in people that have little or no skin or mucus membrane burns.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/22/2014
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
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