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Burns

Definition

There are three levels of burns:

Burns fall into two groups.

Minor burns are:

Major burns include:

You can have more than one type of burn at a time.

Alternative Names

Second degree burn; First degree burn; Third degree burn

Considerations

Severe burns need immediate medical care. This can help prevent scarring, disability, and deformity.

Burns on the face, hands, feet, and genitals can be particularly serious.

Children under age 4 and adults over age 60 have a higher chance of complications and death from severe burns because their skin tends to be thinner than in other age groups.

Causes

Causes of burns from most to least common are:

Burns can be the result of:

This list is not all-inclusive.

You can also burn your airways if you breathe in smoke, steam, superheated air, or chemical fumes in poorly ventilated areas.

Symptoms

Burn symptoms can include:

If you have burned your airways, you may have:

First Aid

Before giving first aid, it is important to determine what type of burn the person has. If you aren't sure, treat it as a major burn. Serious burns need immediate medical care. Call your local emergency number or 911.

MINOR BURNS

If the skin is unbroken:

Minor burns will usually heal without further treatment. Make sure the person is up to date on tetanus immunization.

MAJOR BURNS

If someone is on fire, tell the person to stop, drop, and roll. Then, follow these steps:

You will also need to prevent shock. If the person does not have a head, neck, back, or leg injury, follow these steps:

Continue to monitor the person's pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure until medical help arrives.

Do Not

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 or your local emergency number if:

For minor burns, call your doctor if you still have pain after 48 hours.

Call immediately if signs of infection develop. These signs include:

Also call immediately if symptoms of dehydration occur with a burn:

Children, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system (for example, from HIV) should be seen right away.

The health care provider will perform a history and physical examination. Tests and procedures will be done as needed.

These may include:

The outcome will depend on the type (degree), extent, and location of the burn; whether internal organs have been affected, and if other trauma has occurred. Burns can leave permanent scars. They can also be more sensitive to temperature and light than normal skin. Sensitive areas, such as the eyes, nose, or ears, may be seriously injured and lose normal function.

With airway burns, the person may have less breathing capacity and permanent lung damage. Severe burns that affect the joints may result in contractures, where there is decreased movement and a reduction in function.

Prevention

To help prevent burns:

References

Bethel CA, Mazzeo AS. Burn care procedures. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 38.

Gallagher JJ, Wolf SE, Herndon DN. Burns. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 22.

Holmes JH, Heimbach DM. Burns. In: Brunicardi FC, Andersen DK, Billiar TR, et al, eds. Schwartz's Principles of Surgery. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2010:chap 7.

Singer AJ, Taira BR, Lee CC. Thermal burns. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 63.


Review Date: 7/22/2014
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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