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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Types of Burns and Treatments

Your skin is the largest organ on your body. It’s actually very resilient given all the stresses it is exposed to every day! One thing that can change and damage the skin like no other is a burn. Every burn is different, and burns can be difficult to treat. The best way to keep your skin healthy is to avoid burns! That’s easy to say for something like a sunburn, which can be prevented by avoiding the sun or using sunscreen. But more severe burns are not always easy to prevent. Here’s the skinny on the types of burns and how to treat them.

Types of Burns
Most burns can be classified into one of three types. These include:

First-Degree (Superficial) Burns
Examples of first-degree burns include mild sunburn or a burn resulting from a short rendezvous between your finger and a hot stove. First-degree burns affect only the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, and they do not have blisters. First-degree burns rarely result in long-term tissue damage.

Second-Degree (Partial Thickness) Burns
A second-degree burn damages both the epidermis (outermost layer) and dermis (secondary layer) of the skin. Blisters, swelling, redness and more severe pain than a first-degree burn often identify second-degree burns. The blisters are caused by the heat from the burn causing blood vessels to dilate, allowing the plasma to escape into the skin.

Third-Degree (Full Thickness) Burns
These are the most severe burns, and destroy the epidermis and the dermis, often damaging muscles, bones or tendons normally protected by the skin. Someone suffering from a third-degree burn may not feel pain at the site, as this type of burn can damage the nerve endings. A third-degree burn will appear charred and white, having been damaged beyond blisters or redness. Rather than escaping into the skin, the blood plasma being released from the vessels will escape from the body, which can cause a loss of fluids and result in the body going into shock.

Causes of Burns
Burns can be caused by a variety of things. Below are the most common classifications for burns.
  • Thermal (heat) burns are caused by external heat sources that cause the skin’s temperature to rise. Things like hot liquids, metals or flames can cause thermal burns.
  • Radiation burns are caused by exposure to some form of radiation, such as x-ray machines or the sun.
  • Chemical burns are the type of burn you might expect to get in a science lab. Acids, detergents, solvents or other chemicals can often burn skin.
  • Electrical burns are what they sound like. They’re caused by contact with an electrical current. Someone suffering from an electrical burn may have other issues beyond burned skin.

How to Treat Burns
Treatment will depend on several factors, including the age of the patient, severity of the burn and the cause of the burn. Unless the burn is very minor and has no sign of blistering, you should see a doctor. Here are a few best practices to consider.

For Minor Burns
Sunburns or other first-degree burns can be treated at home. Consider the following treatment options:
  • Sunburns – Use aloe vera or cool washcloths to relieve the burning sensation. While nothing will prevent the peeling that results from a bad sunburn, lotion may help with the itchiness. The best way to treat a sunburn is not to get one!
  • Minor burns (like from a hot pot) – Run cool water over the affected area and use a hydrocortisone cream to treat the burn. Never use ice! It can damage the skin tissue. Use an over-the-counter medication (like ibuprofen) to treat pain as necessary.
  • Don’t smoke! Smoking can decrease blood supply, delaying tissue repair.
  • Watch for an infection or worsening symptoms. If you experience these things, see a doctor immediately.
  • See our previous post on wound care (link) for more information on caring for the affected area.

For Severe Burns
If a burn is blistering or oozing, see a doctor immediately! The oozing means that the burn has damaged more than just your outer layer of skin, and may have gotten through the dermis (secondary layer) as well. As mentioned earlier in this post, this loss of fluid can result in a patient going into shock.

For the Scarring
Severe burns often cause scarring, because the skin can regenerate only from the edges. That’s why skin grafts are often necessary. If you have a scarred area on your face or other area, it is sometimes possible to reduce the visibility of the scarring by using certain fillers or other cosmetic solutions. Talk to your dermatologist if you have questions about these options.

Have any questions about burns or burn treatments? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them there. 


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