father and son marsh mellow roast

Here’s what you need to do immediately if you get burned:

First-degree burns > Run cool water over the burn. Don’t apply ice!

First-degree burns are considered superficial and minor, but they still hurt. This affects only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). It may cause redness and pain but does not blister. Sometimes a bad sunburn can lead to a first-degree burn, which is painful, but usually doesn’t blister.

Second-degree burns > Run cool water over the burn. Don’t apply ice! The treatment for second-and first-degree burns is similar. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic cream that contains silver sulfadiazine which kills bacteria. To reduce swelling, elevate the burned area.  

A second-degree burn affects both the epidermis and the second layer of skin (dermis). These are considered partial-thickness burns. They may cause swelling and red, white, or splotchy skin. And often blisters will develop. The pain can be quite severe. Deep second-degree burns can cause scarring.

Third-degree burns > When in doubt, apply cool water and get to an emergency room ASAP. Third-degree burns can be life-threatening, often lead to shock from rapid loss of fluids and dehydration. People with 3rd-degree burns need immediate medical care and Intravenous fluids.  

This type of burn reaches the fat layer (subcutaneous tissue) beneath the skin and is considered full-thickness Burned areas may have a leathery look and be black, brown, or white. Third-degree burns can destroy nerves, hair follicles, sweat glands, and can cause numbness. Because third-degree burns damage nerve endings, a person may not feel pain in the area of the burn itself, rather at the edges of it. The treatment is skin grafts to replace the damaged areas. The best graft is from the person’s own healthy skin.

A Burn Overview:

A burn is damage to our skin and underlying tissue caused by extreme heat, the sun, chemicals, or contact with electricity. Almost half a million people in the US each year seek medical help for accidental burns. Small children are often scalded with hot water, and along with the elderly are also most at risk for serious burn injuries due to cooking spills. Both children and teens are more often treated for burns related to playing with matches, lighters, fireworks, or too much sun.

At FAME Hospital where I volunteer in Tanzania, many people do not have running water or electricity. That means that a lot of cooking is still done over an open flame, where young children and toddlers are prone to accidentally falling into the cooking fires. We care for many children with extensive 3rd-degree burns, which is one of the reasons why I’m always raising money for the specialized burn dressings that must be changed every day.

The severity of a burn is determined by the depth of the damage, the amount of area affected and is designated by “degree.” Burns are an extremely painful type of injury, and if not treated, a severe burn can become infected.

It can take a day or two for the signs and symptoms of a severe burn to develop. When in doubt, seek medical care ASAP.

Classifications of Severity

  • Minor > First and second-degree burns that cover less than 10% of the body are considered minor and rarely require hospitalization.
  • Moderate > Second-degree burns that cover about 10% of the body are classified as moderate. Burns on the hands, feet, face or genitals can range from moderate to severe.
  • Severe > Third-degree burns that cover more than 10% of the body are considered severe and people who have these should be treated at a specialized burn center. 

Sunburn – The Most Common 1st Degree Burn

Even people with darker skin can get a sunburn, but the lighter the skin the more prone you will be. Even without a burn, sun exposure can cause cellular damage which raises skin cancer risk. From skincancer.org:

  • The UV index is a factor: The sun varies in intensity by season, time of day and geographic location. A high UV index means that unprotected skin will burn faster or more severely. Even one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • You can burn on an overcast day: Be careful even when the sun isn’t shining. Up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate clouds.
  • Even light pink is still sign of injury to your skin that can result in premature aging and skin cancer.

If you do get a sunburn, here are some care tips from the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturizer to help trap the water in your skin. This can help ease the dryness.
  • Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply a hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription. Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine), as these may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
  • Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
  • Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
  • If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal. Blistering skin means you have a second-degree sunburn. You should not pop the blisters, as blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
  • Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear clothing that covers your skin when outdoors. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you shouldn’t see any light coming through.

Safety Tips for Preventing Common Burns:

  • Never leave items cooking on the stove unattended. Set the timer!
  • Turn pot handles toward the rear of the stove. 
  • Use the back burners when cooking if young children are near by.
  • I call out “Hot water coming through!” when carrying hot pasta water to the sink.
  • Don’t carry or hold a child while cooking at the stove.
  • Keep hot liquids out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Keep electrical appliances away from water.
  • Check the temperature of food before serving it to a child. Don’t heat a baby’s bottle in the microwave.
  • Never cook while wearing loose fitting clothes that could catch fire over the stove. Tie back long hair.
  • Small children should not have access to stoves, outdoor grills, fireplaces and space heaters.
  • Before placing a child in a car seat, check for hot straps or buckles.
  • Unplug irons and similar devices when not in use. Store them out of reach of small children.
  • Cover unused electrical outlets with safety caps. 
  • If you smoke, never smoke in bed. (And, while we’re talking about it, please don’t smoke!)
  • Be sure you have working smoke detectors on each floor of your home. Check them and change their batteries at least once a year.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on every floor of your house.
  • When using chemicals, always wear protective eyewear and clothing.
  • Keep chemicals, lighters and matches out of the reach of children. Use safety latches. And don’t use lighters that look like toys.
  • Set your water heater’s thermostat to below 120 F (48.9 C) to prevent scalding. Test bath water before placing a child in it. Don’t leave a small child alone in the bath.

I hope this helps answer your questions. Please stay safe, and if you’re an expert in this area, let me know if I left anything out.

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