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Burns to the Skin

Burn, Second Degree

Burns are injuries to the skin and underlying tissues that can lead to pain, blister, swelling and loss of skin.

Burns are usually caused by heat from fire, steam, or hot liquids. However, they may also result from chemicals (acids), ultraviolet radiation (sun exposure), radiation and electricity.

Although minor burns can usually heal spontaneously, severe burns may penetrate into deeper tissues, such as fat, muscle, or bone and require extensive treatment or hospitalization.

Classification of Burns

Burns are classified as minor, moderate, or severe. This classification is based on two factors; a) depth of the burn and b) total area burned.

1) Burn Depth

The depth of injury from a burn is described as first, second, or third degree:

Burns to the Skin
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2) Burn Area

NOTE: The appearance and symptoms of deep burns can worsen during the first hours or even days after the burn.

Complications of Burns

Treatment of Minor Burns

First-aid measures at home may be all that is necessary to treat small, shallow burns that are clean.

Running cold water over the burn can help relieve pain. In general, a clean burn is one that affects only clean skin and that does not contain any dirt particles or food.

Covering the burn with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment and a nonstick, sterile bandage can help prevent infection.

A doctor's examination and treatment are recommended if a tetanus vaccination is needed and if the burn has the following traits:

Treatment of Serious Burns

A serious burn may require admission to a hospital or frequent re-examination at a hospital or doctor's office, possibly as often as daily for the first few days.

Severe burns may require a skin graft to repair the damaged area.

Last updated December 28, 2011.

Graphic image courtesy of K. Aainsqatsi