Burns are categorized as a type of damage to the skin and its underlying tissues. Most skin burns are minor injuries, which usually occur at work or home. Although kids are more prone to such incidents, adults are no different. Burns are characterized by a burning sensation around the injured area and severe skin damage. While burns caused due to spilling of hot water or touching a hot stove can be treated at home, more serious burns need urgent medical attention to prevent complications. Our expert Dr Kiran Lohia, a well-known dermatologist, tells you everything about burns – types, causes, treatment, home remedies, complications and prevention.
There are numerous factors that make you susceptible to skin burns, including heat or radiation. However, the common causes of skin injury and burns are broadly classified into three main groups –
- Day-to-day activities: The common activities that cause burns include excessive sun exposure (people with sensitive skin), accidental activities like spilling of hot liquid or direct contact with a hot object such as iron, fire accidents or steam.
- Chemicals: Apart from the common causes of burns, other factors such as radiation, electricity or electric shock and certain chemicals can also cause burns.
- Inhalation injury: One of the rare causative agents of burns is an inhalation injury to the respiratory tract or lungs. This is mainly caused by breathing of smoke.
‘Depending upon the layer of the skin that is affected, the type and severity of skin burns are determined. However, burns are classified into three levels, 1st degree, 2nd degree and 3rd degree burns,’ says Dr Lohia.
- 1st degree burns: In this case, the top layer of the skin known as epidermis is affected. The main causes of this type of burns are sunburn, scalding from hot water, steam or electric burns and radiation. Also known as superficial burns, they are painful and tender and normally heal within 10 – 15 days. Wounds caused due to these burns are dry, red and cause discolouration of the skin in some cases.
- 2nd degree burns: Also known as partial thickness, these types of burns damage the second layer of the skin – dermis. These wounds are white, pink or red in colour and moist in nature. Characterized by skin blisters, they are quite painful and result in skin discoloration of the affected area with no scarring.
- 3rd degree burns: These wounds involve the epidermis and dermis along with nerve endings, blood vessels, hair follicles and sweat glands, they are known as full thickness burns or 3rd degree burns. These wounds cause little or no pain (due to nerve damage) and have a charred appearance. They leave scars and are leathery, dry in nature. If 3rd degree burns affect only a small area, they take a few months to heal, while for the ones affecting large areas, skin grafting is the only option.
Here is detailed information on different types of burns.
The commonly observed signs of burns include –
- Pain (it is dependent on the type and severity of skin burns)
- White, pink, red or charred skin
- Skin peeling
- Skin blisters
- Difficulty in breathing, burned lips and voice changes (are seen in case of inhalation injury)
The treatment options are determined by the severity and type of burns. A 1st degree burn and 2nd degree burn (if the affected area is not more than 3 inches long) can be treated with home remedies. However, people suffering from 3rd degree burns should be taken to the nearest hospital at the earliest.
Dr Lohia says, ‘Whenever a person suffers from burn injury, hold the burned area and immerse under running tap water for around 10 minutes. Never put ice on the affected area. You can either put salt over it or cover the area with a bandage loosely. In case of pain, have dispirin or calpol medicines to combat pain and wait for the burn to heal naturally.’ Read more about first aid tips for burn injuries.
Apart from homecare measures, there are few treatment options that are commonly used to treat 3rd degree burns or severe cases. These include -
- Skin grafting: It is a standard treatment option for burn injuries. In this method, a skin graft (skin from other part of the body) is surgically stitched over the affected area. Although the grafted skin looks like a patchwork, the skin appears to look similar to the original skin over time.
- Stem cell treatment: In this process, stem cells are collected from fat tissue or blood sample and separated and cultured in the lab. With surgical procedure, the separated stem cells are put on the affected area and covered with collagen, skin protein. Over time, the stem cells form new skin layer and differentiates into skin cells and tissue.
The chances of health complications are quite high in case of burns, as the integrity of the skin is damaged. Common problems experienced by people with burns include –
- Risk of infections: There is an increased susceptibility to various infections and diseases as the burned skin is exposed leading to pollutant and bacterial attack.
- Scarring of skin: Thin and wrinkly appearing skin is termed atrophic, thick scar is known as hypertrophic and thicker and larger scar are called keloidal.
- Pigmentation: It is commonly seen in people with dark burn marks and often decolourises the normal colour of the skin.
- Joint or bone pain: If the burns are deep to the bone or joints, it leads to pain. This is because the scar tissue makes muscles and tendons to shorten, leading to pulling of joints and bone.
Common ingredients used to treat burns caused due to oil scalding or boiling water are –
Read in detail about the 5 home remedies to soothe burns.
The content has been verified by Dr Kiran Lohia, dermatologist practising in New Delhi.