Burns are injuries to the skin and underlying tissues that can lead to pain, blistering, swelling and loss of skin. They are usually caused by heat from fire, steam or hot liquids. However, they might also result from chemicals (acids), ultraviolet radiation (sun exposure), radiation and electricity.
Q: How are burns classified?
A: 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.
Burn depth. The depth of injury from a burn is described as first, second, or third degree:
• First-degree burns affect only the top layer of skin (epidermis). These are described as “superficial” burns. First-degree burns are red, swollen and painful.
• Second-degree burns extend into the middle layer of skin (dermis). These may be referred to as “partial-thickness” burns. Second-degree burns are pink or red, swollen and painful, and they develop blisters that may ooze a clear fluid.
• Third-degree burns extend through all three layers of skin (epidermis, dermis, and fat/muscle). These burns also harm the sweat glands, hair follicles, and nerves. These are called “full-thickness” burns. Third-degree burns usually are not painful because the nerves have been destroyed. The skin becomes leathery and may be white, black or bright red.
• Minor burns: All first-degree burns as well as second-degree burns that involve less than 10% of the body surface usually are classified as minor.
• Moderate and severe burns: Burns involving the hands, feet, face or genitals, second-degree burns involving more than 10% of the body surface area, and all third-degree burns involving more than 1% of the body are classified as moderate or severe.
Q: What is the best treatment for burns?
A: First-aid measures at home might be all that is necessary to treat small, shallow burns.
Running cold water over the burn can help relieve pain. Additionally, covering the burn with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment and a nonstick, sterile bandage can help prevent infection.
If the burn has the following traits, you should consult a physician for immediate treatment:
• The burn is larger than the size of the person’s open hand
• Blisters appear at the site of the burn
• The burn involves the face, hand, foot, genitals or skin folds
• The wound is not entirely clean
• Pain persists longer that one day after the burn
A serious burn may require admission to a hospital or frequent re-examination at a doctor’s office, possibly as often as daily for the first few days.
Q: What are the complications of a burn?
A: Minor burns are usually superficial and do not cause significant complications. First- and some second-degree burns heal in days to weeks without scarring. Second-degree and third-degree burns can cause scar tissue to form. Deep second-degree and small third-degree burns take weeks to heal and usually cause scarring.
Most require skin grafting. Severe burns (and some moderate burns) can cause serious complications due to extensive fluid loss and tissue damage.
Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.