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Burns can happen when the skin is exposed to heat (from fire or hot liquids), electricity, corrosive chemicals, or radiation (UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, or radiation treatments). Burns are classified as follows, according to the severity of tissue damage:
Between 1 - 2 million Americans seek medical attention for burns each year. Most burns occur at home, at work, or are part of an injury from a motor vehicle accident. Between 50,000 - 70,000 people are hospitalized for burns every year in the United States, 30 - 40% of whom are children younger than 15 years of age. Most burns in children come from scalding liquids. All burns -- even minor ones -- may cause complications if not properly treated. Skin is the body's natural barrier to infection, and burns destroy that protection, so treatment usually involves preventing or treating infections.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of burns are different depending on how severe the burn is (as described above). Your doctor will evaluate the extent of the burn (the amount of skin or body surface area that the burn covers) to assess the risk for complications, such as infection, dehydration, and disfigurement.
People who get burned are very prone to infection. It can be hard to tell if a minor burn is infected because the skin surrounding a burn is usually red and may become warm to the touch -- both of which are also signs of infection. Any change in the appearance of a burn, or in the way that the person feels, should be brought to the attention of a doctor. Potential signs of infection include:
In severe or widespread burns, fluid is lost through the skin, and the person can become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to life threatening shock. A doctor will treat dehydration with intravenous (IV) fluids. Potential signs of dehydration include:
Burns have typical and atypical patterns. Typical patterns result from accidental burns while atypical patterns may be a sign of physical abuse. Typical burns (from spilling hot liquid, for example) tend to occur in exposed areas such as the arms, face, and neck. Atypical burns may occur in unexposed areas such as the buttocks. Burns involving entire hands and feet are also not typical, nor are third degree burns involving a very small, focused area (resembling, for example, a cigarette).
Burns are caused by exposure to thermal (heat), electrical, radiation, or chemical sources. Thermal burns occur when hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, or flames come in contact with the skin. Exposure to electrical current causes electrical burns, and contact with caustic chemicals causes chemical burns. Prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays or to other sources of radiation (such as from tanning booths) can also cause burns.
The most serious burns are usually caused by scalding hot or flammable liquids, and fires. Exposure to chemicals and electrical currents also cause severe injury and damage to the skin.
Risk factors for burns include:
These actions can reduce your risk for burns:
These steps may help reduce the severity of a burn once it occurs:
When diagnosing a burn, a doctor evaluates the depth and extent of the damage, the degree of pain, the amount of swelling, and signs of infection. Doctors classify the burn based on the depth and extent of the injury. Burns that cover a significant portion of the body, burns associated with smoke inhalation, burns from electrical injuries, and burns associated with suspected physical abuse require immediate emergency medical attention. In the emergency room, all wounds are wrapped with sterile cloths. Patients may receive oxygen (either through a mask or tube) and fluids. Patients are also evaluated for associated injuries (such as from physical abuse). Doctors may also conduct tests to determine whether the wound is infected.
While minor burns may be treated at home, all other burns require immediate emergency medical attention because of the risk of infection, dehydration, and other potentially serious complications.
These are first aid steps for burns:
First degree burns:
Second degree burns:
Third degree burns:
People who are burned seriously will be admitted to a hospital. There, doctors will concentrate on keeping the burned area clean and removing any dead tissue through a process called debridement. Medications will be used to reduce pain and prevent infection. A tetanus shot will be given if the person has not had one in 5 or more years.
Burns often cause pain and anxiety, even during recovery. A person may also experience emotional distress if a burn changes his or her appearance. Complementary therapies that may help alleviate such pain and anxiety include:
Good nutrition is important as people recover, because vitamins and minerals have been shown to promote wound healing and prevent the spread of infection.
Fourth degree burns require the same attention as third degree burns. Patients should seek medical help immediately.
Surgery and Other Procedures
In the case of severe burns, debridement and skin grafting may be performed. Debridement is the removal of dead tissue. In skin grafting, a piece of skin is surgically sewn over the burn, after any dead tissue is removed. The skin can be from another part of the person's body, from a donor, or from an animal (usually a pig). Skin grafts from the person's own body are permanent. Artificial skin may also be used. Cosmetic surgery may be done to improve both the function and appearance of the burned area.
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
Minor burns can be treated with natural products. Severe burns, however, always require immediate medical attention. It is especially important for people who have been seriously burned to get enough nutrients in their daily diet. Burn patients in hospitals are often given high calorie, high protein diets to speed recovery.
Do not try to treat a second or third degree burn by yourself. Always seek medical advice. Ask your doctor which supplements are best for you. Always tell your health care provider about the herbs and supplements you are using or considering using, as some supplements may interfere with conventional treatments.
Following these tips may improve your healing and general health.
The following supplements may also help. Be sure to ask your doctor before taking them if your burns are moderate or severe:
Minor burns may be treated with herbs, but you should never take or apply any herb when you have moderate o severe burns. Call for emergency help first.
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
These herbs may be applied topically (externally) to minor burns:
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses controlled, low voltage electrical stimulation of the skin to relieve pain. Recent studies have suggested that TENS applied to acupuncture points (called electroacupuncture) on the ear (auricular acupuncture) may relieve pain for people with burns.
Massage and Physical Therapy
People with burns suffer pain, itching, and anxiety both from the burn itself and during the healing of wounds. Some studies suggest that massage may help ease these symptoms in both the emergency care and recovery phases. People receiving a massage reported significantly less itching, pain, anxiety, and depressed mood compared to those who received standard care only. Ask your doctor before using massage after a burn.
Occupational and physical therapy begin very early for people who are hospitalized for burns. Occupational and physical therapists use a number of techniques to improve movement and function of the areas affected by a burn, and to reduce scar formation. Physical therapy may include the practices listed below:
Although very few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies in the treatment of burns, professional homeopaths may consider the following measures to treat first and second degree burns and to aid recovery from any burn. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person’s constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual.
Several studies suggest that hypnosis may reduce pain and anxiety and enhance relaxation in people with burns.
Therapeutic touch (TT) is based on the theory that the body, mind, and emotions form a complex energy field. Therapists seek to correct the body's imbalances by moving their hands just over the body, what they call "the laying on of hands." This practice has been used for a number of conditions including pain and anxiety, but studies have shown conflicting results. One study of patients hospitalized for severe burns suggests that TT may reduce pain and anxiety associated with burns.
Prognosis and Complications
First degree burns generally heal on their own in 10 - 20 days if no infection develops. In rare cases, first degree burns spread more deeply to become second degree (this spread is caused by infection). Deep second degree burns may progress to third degree. Third degree burns may require a skin graft.
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Review Date: 12/11/2010
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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