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Burn injuries

Reducing the risks, preventing infection

Published:Wednesday | July 27, 2022 | 12:08 AMKeisha Hill / Senior Gleaner Writer

Burns are one of the most common household injuries, especially among children. The term ‘burn’ means more than the burning sensation associated with this injury. Burns are characterised by severe skin damage that causes the affected skin cells to die.

A burn occurs when heat, chemicals, sunlight, electricity or radiation damages skin tissue. Most burns happen accidentally. There are different degrees of burns, and your doctor determines the seriousness of a burn based on the depth of the burn and the amount of affected skin. Burns can be painful, and, if left untreated, a burn can lead to infection.

Most people can recover from burns without serious health consequences, depending on the cause and degree of injury. More serious burns require immediate emergency medical care to prevent complications and death.

Many people go to the emergency department every year with burn injuries. Accidental burns can happen to anyone, although children, teenagers and older people are most at risk. These age groups are more prone to burn injuries from cooking, such as spilling a boiling pan of water on to the skin.

Children and teenagers are also more likely to play around with lighters, matches and fireworks, or get sunburns.

There are three primary types of burns: first-, second-, and third-degree. Each degree is based on the severity of damage to the skin, with first-degree being the most minor and third-degree being the most severe. Burn damages include first-degree burns: red, blistered skin; second-degree burns: blisters and some thickening of the skin; third-degree burns: widespread thickness, with a white, leathery appearance.

There are also fourth-degree burns. This type of burn includes all of the symptoms of a third-degree burn, but extends beyond the skin into the tendons and bones.

The type of burn is not based on the cause of it. Scalding, for example, can cause all three degrees of burns, depending on how hot the liquid is and how long it stays in contact with the skin.

Chemical and electrical burns warrant immediate medical attention because they can affect the inside of the body, even if the skin damage is minor.

Compared with first- and second-degree burns, third-degree burns carry the most risk for complications, such as infections, blood loss and shock, which is often what could lead to death. At the same time, all burns carry the risk of infections because bacteria can enter broken skin.

Another possible complication with burns of all levels is tetanus. Like sepsis, tetanus is a bacterial infection. It affects the nervous system, eventually leading to problems with muscle contractions. As a rule of thumb, every member of your household should receive updated tetanus shots every 10 years to prevent this type of infection.

Severe burns also carry the risk of hypothermia and hypovolemia. Dangerously low body temperatures characterise hypothermia. While this may seem like an unexpected complication of a burn, the condition is actually prompted by excessive loss of body heat from an injury.

Hypovolemia, or low blood volume, occurs when your body loses too much blood from a burn.

Burn treatment varies depending on the cause and severity. Keep all burns clean and apply proper bandages/dressing, determined by the severity of the wounds. Treating the person’s pain is key: inadequate control can interfere with wound care.

Continue to check the wound for signs of infection and other long-term issues, such as scarring and tightening of the skin over joints and muscles, which makes them difficult to move.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.comSOURCE: American Academy of Dermatology Association, Medicine News Today