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.
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 other age groups.
Common 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.
If you have burned your airways, you may have:
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.
If the skin is unbroken:
Minor burns will usually heal without further treatment. Make sure the person is up to date on tetanus immunization.
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.
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, 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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