Burns are painful injuries that leave long-lasting effects such as scars, nerve damage, and disfigurement. Most people associate burns with fire, but there are actually several types of burns, and medical professionals use a degree scale to classify the burns they treat. It’s important to understand the different types of burns and how they happen to prevent injuries to yourself and others.
The most common type of burn is a heat burn or thermal burn. This type of burn occurs when a person comes into contact with a hot surface, boiling liquid, open flame, or explosion. Some common examples of thermal burns include touching a hot stove burner, spilling hot tea on exposed skin, or suffering a burn from a flare-up on a gas grill.
High-voltage electrical discharges can cause severe burns as well as a host of other medical issues. The human body conducts electricity, so people are vulnerable to electrocution and electrical burns. Exposure to electrical currents can also cause severe nerve damage, interfere with the rhythm of the victim’s heartbeat, and cause other neurological problems.
A chemical burn occurs when a person comes into contact with corrosive or toxic substances. An example would include touching wet concrete, which can cause severe burns if it remains on the skin for too long. Breathing in corrosive gasses can also cause burns in the respiratory tract and esophagus, and some inhaled chemicals can cause brain damage.
Exposure to dangerous radiation can burn the skin and increase the risk of developing certain cancers. Sunburn occurs from overexposure to the sun’s rays and is the most common type of radiation burn. Most people experience this type of burn at least once in their lifetimes. The sun emits ultraviolet rays that can burn the skin, cause eye damage, and increase the risk of skin cancer over time.
Doctors and medical professionals use a degree scale to classify burns. A first-degree burn is the least severe and a victim can generally treat such a burn at home with over-the-counter first aid supplies, such as burn ointment and bandages. Most people can also treat mild sunburn at home using aloe-based ointments and over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen. However, a first-degree burn in a sensitive area of the body or one that covers more than 10% of the surface area of the skin should receive medical attention.
Second-degree burns are more severe, penetrate more deeply through the skin, and have a high potential for scarring. Third-degree burns penetrate completely through the skin and are medical emergencies. Chemical burns and electrical burns almost always require medical attention due to the high chances of secondary issues such as respiratory problems, neurological interference, and altered heart rate.
Most severe burns carry a high potential for scarring and long-term damage. Scar tissue in certain areas of the body, such as the joints, can limit range of motion or cause discomfort when moving. Scar tissue doesn’t have the same elasticity as healthy skin, and a burn victim will notice as he or she moves the affected part of the body, the scarred skin tugs on the healthy skin surrounding it, causing itching, discomfort, and pain.
People who suffer severe burns must often undergo multiple skin-grafting surgeries and other restorative procedures to correct function in the affected parts of the body. Scars can also be emotionally devastating, and many burn victims experience psychological trauma as well as physical issues. It’s vital to understand how to tell the difference between a burn that is treatable at home and one that demands medical attention.