There are three levels of burns:
Before giving first aid, evaluate how extensively burned the person is and try to determine the depth of the most serious part of the burn. Then treat the entire burn accordingly. If in doubt, treat it as a severe burn.
By giving immediate first aid before professional medical help arrives, you can help lessen the severity of the burn. Prompt medical attention to serious burns 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.
In case of a fire, you and the others there are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Anyone with symptoms of headache, numbness, weakness, or chest pain should be tested.
Burns can be caused by dry heat (like fire), wet heat (such as steam or hot liquids), radiation, friction, heated objects, the sun, electricity, or chemicals.
Thermal burns are the most common type. Thermal burns occur when hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, or flames come in contact with your skin. These are frequently the result of fires, automobile accidents, playing with matches, improperly stored gasoline, space heaters, and electrical malfunctions. Other causes include unsafe handling of firecrackers and kitchen accidents (such as a child climbing on top of a stove or grabbing a hot iron).
Burns to your airways can be caused by inhaling smoke, steam, superheated air, or toxic fumes, often in a poorly ventilated space.
Burns in children are sometimes traced to parental abuse.
Symptoms of an airways burn:
FOR MINOR BURNS
FOR MAJOR BURNS
Call 911 if:
Call a doctor if your pain is still present after 48 hours.
Call immediately if signs of infection develop. These signs include increased pain, redness, swelling, drainage or pus from the burn, swollen lymph nodes, red streaks spreading from the burn, or fever.
Also call immediately if there are signs of dehydration: thirst, dry skin, dizziness, lightheadedness, or decreased urination. Children, elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system (for example, HIV) should be seen right away.
To help prevent burns:
Second degree burn; First degree burn; Third degree burn
Singer AJ, Taira BR, Lee CC, Soroff HS. Thermal burns. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 60.
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: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 22.
Bethel CA, Mazzeo AS. Burn care procedures. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 38.
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.
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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