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Burns and scalds: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About burns and scalds

Burns and scalds are common injuries which are encountered in the general population. They can be mild or serious or even life-threatening. Burns are caused by dry heat like fire or corrosive substances such as acids, whereas scalds are result from wet heat like boiling water or steam.

Burns and scalds: Incidence, age and sex

Burns and scalds are very commonly seen, especially in domestic settings. The frequency is higher in children as compared with adults.

Signs and symptoms of burns and scalds: Diagnosis

The clinical features of burns and scalds depend upon the extent or degree of burns which can be classified into 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns. The first degree burns are minor burns affecting only the superficial layer of skin. It may present with reddening of the skin and mild pain. The most common example of 1st degree burns is sunburn which usually heals on its own within a few days. The 2nd degree burns, also called partial thickness burns usually exhibits red skin with blisters which are quite painful. Such burns require immediate medical treatment and may take weeks to heal. However, 2nd degree burns generally do not cause any scarring of the skin. The 3rd degree burns are an emergency condition wherein all the layers of the skin get damaged along with nerve endings, resulting in a loss of pain. The skin may appear waxy white or charred black. These burns are deep seated and cause extensive scarring of the skin.

Causes and prevention of burns and scalds

Burns and scalds can result from various injuries of which domestic accidents are the commonest. Instances like burn accidents from irons, hot cooking oil, heaters, hot coffee or tea, hot water in bath and kitchen injuries are frequently encountered. Chemical burns from topical, medicated ointments or bleach are also seen in general population. Other causes of burns are electrical burns caused from electric current and radiation burns from sun or high energy radiation waves in radiotherapy treatment.

Burns and scalds: Complications

The most common complication of burns seen in medical practice is superimposed infection. This may be critical and may need hospitalization and constant care. Some burns can result in scarring of the skin which blemishes the physical appearance and thus be a cause of distress in many individuals. Furthermore, burns to face and chest are potentially fatal since they may cause swelling of the airways, resulting in failure to breathe.

Burns and scalds: Treatment

The treatment of burns and scalds depend upon the type (burn, scald, electrical, chemical) of burns and the extent and magnitude of burns. Immediate medical attention should be provided to the affected individual. First of all, remove the source of burns. Immediate application of cold, running water helps in minimising pain and further deterioration of skin condition. Remove any constricting clothing and jewellery due to chances of swelling of affected area. It is also advisable to carefully remove the burnt clothing which may be adhered to the skin. Consult a doctor urgently for further management. Analgesics may be prescribed to relieve pain. Hospitalization may be needed in 3rd degree burns or burns affecting the face and the chest. Some individuals with extensive scarring of the skin may require skin grafting in the future.