Minor burns can be more serious than they appear. While most burns can be readily and successfully treated with first aid, certain small burns have the potential of creating a problem.Deep partial-thickness (second-degree) burns and full-thickness (third-degree) burns, however small, may fail to heal or they may heal with significant scarring. At that point, surgical treatment will not have the good results it might have had if the burns had been medically treated earlier.
Accurate assessment of small burn injury, especially of its depth (first, second, third degree), is a key factor in avoiding complications. Causes of burns can also provide useful information in assessing the seriousness of a burn:
- SCALDING LIQUIDS, when directly contacting the skin or trapped in clothing, can cause a third-degree burn in seconds. A child can receive third-degree burns in two seconds at water temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot liquids spilling on the skin but quickly rolling off usually cause only first-degree burns.
- FLAMING CLOTHES almost always cause second- or even third-degree burns.
- FLASH BURNS usually produce only first-degree burns.
The burn's appearance may offer some clues: First-degree burns tend to look pink, moist and glistening; second-degree may have blisters; third-degree burns tend to look dry and parchment-like. No hair follicles remain. The early appearance of a burn may be misleading, however, since it may worsen as time passes.
Complications are more likely in certain kinds of victims:
- The elderly victim often has a burn deeper than suspected because his or her sense of pain is diminished.
- The victim with diabetes is at higher risk of infection and delayed healing because of circulatory problems.
- The immunosuppressed victim taking high doses of corticosteriods is at greater risk for infection.ELECTRICAL BURNS
Electrical burns are hard to evaluate because the small surface burned area provides no indication of whether deep muscles, nerve or circulatory destruction has occurred. Deep tissue injury is not common in household electrical accidents but common when source exceeds 500 volts.
If the electrical current traverses the heart or brain, cardiac or respiratory arrest may occur. If cardiac arrest occurs, give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Evidence of electric current entrance and exit points may help confirm an electrocution.
Other electric burns are relatively minor. These burns are classified as thermal rather than electrical because the current does not enter the body. If clothing is ignited by an arc, increased injury is more likely. Arcing occurs around industrial high-voltage electrical panels or high-voltage power lines.
When lightning strikes, fatal injuries are less likely from burns than to the "sledgehammer" effect of the strike. Usually, the burns are trivial, but fractures, dislocations and internal injuries are as severe as those received in a severe car crash.
Another major complication from a lightning strike is cardiac arrest. Although an explanation is unclear, CPR extended for a longer time than usual has successfully resuscitated pulseless victims.
More than a million burn injuries yearly require medical attention or restriction of activity. About one-third are treated at hospital emergency departments.
With the size of the problem, all people should have knowledge about providing first aid for burned victims. You can take a first-aid course using state-of-the-art materials by contacting the Utah Safety Council at 533-5851 or 1 (800) 933-5943. Many people would even like to become first-aid instructors in order to teach youth groups, church groups, businesses, etc. Ask the Utah Safety Council about becoming an instructor or your group becoming a training agency for them.