Doctor's Notes on Burns
A burn is a general term that can mean any injury that involves heat, fire, chemical, or electrical injury to skin, blood vessels, nerves, organs, or bone. Injury ranges from minor to life-threatening. The severity of the burn determines the signs and symptoms. First degree burns show red skin and local pain (sunburn). Second degree burns show pain, redness with blister formation, and swelling (for example, spilling hot coffee on your arm); the skin often peels off. Third degree burns show white or black charred skin, and the third degree burn area has no pain due to nerve damage. Many burns are serious, including second degree types. Those burns that are to the face, hands, feet, and/or genitals, go completely around an arm or leg, or involve more than 10% of the body surface (palm of the hand equals about 1% of body surface) necessitate a call to 911.
Heat, fire, chemical, or electrical sources can be the cause of burns. Burns require special medical care as the prognosis of the patient often depends on burn wound care and treatment of secondary problems like smoke inhalation, dehydration, infections, and tissue loss.
What Are the Treatments for Burns?
Treatment of burns is based on the severity of the burn; minor burns may have the following characteristics usually do not need emergency care:
- Redness of skin like sunburn
- Some blisters may form
- The above symptoms and signs in a skin area about 3 inches in diameter (except on facial areas and genitals)
- Home treatments include running cool water over the burn, removing constrictive items like rings or watches, not bursting blisters, applying lotion, covering with a bandage, and applying over-the-counter pain reliever
For major burns, call 911or go to the nearest emergency department and meanwhile try to do the following:
- Keep the burned person (and yourself) away from further harm.
- Check the person's breathing and assist if necessary.
- Remove any restrictive items especially in burn areas as burns cause swelling.
- Cover the burn with a moist clean cloth.
- Elevate the burn area above the heart if possible.
- Watch for signs of shock (fainting, shallow breathing, low blood pressure, for example).
- Do not submerge large burns in water (may trigger hypothermia).
Trauma and First Aid : Training and Supplies QuizQuestion
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Sunburn (Sun Poisoning)Sunburn is a burn on the skin caused by UV radiation. Mild sunburn symptoms include skin redness and pain. Severe cases of sunburn (sun poisoning) are complicated by skin burning and blistering, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and possibly infection. A sun rash is caused by a condition referred to as polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). Home remedies for sunburn include over-the-counter pain medicine, aloe vera gels and lotions, and cool tepid baths. Severe sunburn may need medical treatment. Prevention of sunburn include staying out of the sun during the peak hours of the day, wearing sunscreen often and reapply often, and wear protective clothing shielding the exposed body from the sun.
Tetanus (Lockjaw)Tetanus is an infectious disease caused by contamination of wounds from the bacteria Clostridium tetani, or the spores they produce that live in the soil, and animal feces. Tetanus symptoms and signs include muscle cramps, lockjaw, weakness, and difficulty swallowing. A tetanus shot/vaccine is used to prevent tetanus. Tetanus treatment includes antibiotics, wound cleansing, pain medicine, sedatives to control muscle spasms, and IV fluids.
Thermal Burns (Heat or Fire)Thermal burns are burns caused by heat, rather than chemicals or other causes. They can range from mild, like a sunburn, to severe. The burn severity is determined by the size of the area of the body with burns and how many layers of skin are involved.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.