A major burn is a horrifying injury, necessitating painful treatment and a long period of rehabilitation. It’s often fatal or permanently disfiguring and incapacitating (emotionally and physically). In the United States, about 2.5 million people annually suffer burns. It’s the nation’s third leading cause of accidental death.
Thermal burns, the most common type, are caused by flame, flash, scald or contact with hot objects. Examples are residential fires, motor vehicle accidents, playing with matches, improperly stored gasoline, space heater or electrical malfunctions, or arson. Other causes include improper handling of firecrackers, scalding accidents, and kitchen accidents (such as a child climbing on top of a stove or grabbing a hot iron). Burns in children are sometimes traced to parental abuse.
Chemical burns result from the contact, ingestion, inhalation, or injection of acids, alkalis, or vesicants that cause tissue injury and necrosis. Electrical burns result from coagulation necrosis caused by intense heat; they usually occur after contact with faulty electrical wiring or high-voltage power lines or when electric cords are chewed (by young children). Friction or abrasion burns happen when the skin is rubbed harshly against a coarse surface. Sunburn, of course, follows excessive exposure to sunlight.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms will vary depending on the degree of burn. Suspect burn injury when the patient presents with blisters, pain, peeling skin, red skin, edema, white or charred skin, or signs of shock. Suspect an airway burn if you see charred mouth, burned lips, burns on the head, neck, or face; wheezing, change in voice, difficulty breathing and coughing; singed nose hairs or eyebrows; or dark carbon-