The heat of the moment: Burn Awareness

Posted on February 6, 2018 by kerri

Often, burns occur quickly. Sometimes, burns are preventable, but other times, unfortunate scenarios that no one could have prevented result in burns of varying severity. This week is Burn Awareness Week—which applies to both being aware of the effects of burns, knowing how to treat minor burns, and prevent burns.

Photo Credit to Bill Smith via Flickr.

The degrees of burns

Most people have sustained a minor burn at some point in time. A sunburn is a very minor burn caused by the UV rays and too much UV exposure to the sun. A first degree burn may occur if you accidentally touch a hot pot or stove but remove your hand quickly—or if your oven mitt happens to develop a hole—ouch!

 

Treating first degree burns

First degree burns don’t usually require medical attention. Treat first degree burns much like you would a sunburn—apply cool water via tap or cloth when they initially occur, take cool showers or baths, and apply aloe vera. Over the counter hydrocortisone cream may also help. [1]

Treating minor second degree burns

The above along with over the counter pain relievers may help with second degree burns [1] If burns are itchy, an over the counter antihistamine may help, as can a lotion such as Vaseline Intensive Care or Lubriderm so long as the burns have not opened up/are “weeping” fluid [1.2] Protect burns with a dressing for several days. Once burns have healed, they may be sensitive to temperature and may also be more likely to sunburn [1.2], so keep that new skin protected with sunscreen.

If symptoms worsen, pain is uncontrollable, the burn seems to become infected, or you have severe symptoms or difficulty breathing, see your doctor or seek emergency care. [1.2]

Treating worse second-degree burns

If your burn is not responding to the above treatment or seems worse than you can handle at home, seek medical attention.

Treating third-degree burns

A third degree burn is most often identified by its appearance. According to Healthline.com, third degree burns may be so bad that nerve damage has occurred, so they may not cause pain as bad as one might expect from the worst kind of burn.

Third degree burns will be obvious by their appearance and require emergency medical attention. These severe burns can make the skin appear charred, dark brown, waxy, white (like paper), undeveloped blisters, or raised and leathery—or combinations of the above depending on the extent of the burned area.

Third degree burns require emergency medical attention: call 911 immediately. If clothing or jewelry can be removed safely from near the burn area (without touching it), do this while waiting for help, but do not get undressed. [2]

Complications can arise from third degree burns including blood loss, infection, and shock, all of which can lead to death. [2]

At the hospital, skin will be cleaned and “debrided” (dead skin/tissue will be removed in surgery or in a special bath). IV fluids with electrolytes may be given, antibiotics may be given orally or by IV, or as an ointment to the burn, pain medicine will likely be given by IV or by mouth, a tetanus shot will be given, to combat the immediate health risks of a severe burn. [3] Restoration of the skin will often occur, including skin grafts if needed to close the burned area and functional/cosmetic reconstruction procedures to normalize appearance and function of the burned area. [3]  A high-protein diet may also be recommended to facilitate better healing. [3]

Life after a severe burn

When I was at camp as a teen, often the end of summer teen camp was held at the same time as the Firefighters Burn Fund camp, for children who had sustained severe burns, called Camp Phoenix. For children and teens, as well as young adults, these camps can help provide a sense of normalcy where no one asks about their scars or what happened.

Social support is so important for people who have survived traumatic situations or have chronic illness, but when the injury site is as apparent as a recovered burn may be, it can be especially important to have people who understand. By learning how one another cope, manage their scars, and more, burn survivors become more resilient together.

If you are a burn survivor, contacting the burn unit at your hospital may help you connect to others who have similar experiences.

Learn more about burn prevention here.

Like burns, many medical crises can occur unexpectedly or quickly. A medical ID bracelet or necklace can help you get the treatment you need in an emergency.

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