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A burn is characterized by damage to the tissues of the body by way of chemicals, heat, sunlight, radiation or electricity. The most common causes of burn injuries include scalding burns from steam or hot liquids, flammable liquids or building fires and flammable gases. Another type of burns is inhalation injuries, which are caused by breathing in smoke or a similar substance. There are essentially three different types of burns, which are characterized by the level of damage caused to the skin.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Burns

First degree burns only involve damage to the outermost layer of skin, which is known as the epidermis. Second degree burns involve both the outer layer of skin and the one just underneath it, which is known as the dermis. Here is where there are nerves and elastic fibers which can become damaged or destroyed. Finally third degree burns cause damage down to the deepest layer of skin and the tissues that are beneath it. This layer of skin is known as the subcutaneous layer of skin or the hypodermis, and this is where the larger nerves and blood vessels are located.

Complications from burn injuries can arise based on the location of the burn, the depth of the burn and how much body area is involved in the burn. All three of these characteristics are going to influence how much damage is actually caused by the burn injury as well as what type of treatment is required. Some complications of burns include low blood volume, infection, low body temperature, respiratory problems, scarring and bone or joint problems.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests of Burns

The most important test with a burn injury is determining what level of damage was caused to the skin and underlying tissues. Burn injuries are capable of causing blistering, swelling, scarring and other damage to the skin. Because the skin is the protective barrier to the underlying tissues, infections are quite common in burn injuries and so they must be treated properly and taken seriously in order to make sure that no complications arise.

First and second degree burns tend to be more painful than third degree burns. Burns that involve blistering are second degree burns, while those that are simply red and swollen are typically first degree burns. In third degree burn situations, the skin is white and appears leathery. Because the nerves under the skin are destroyed or seriously damaged in the burn, these tend to be more painless than the others.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Burns

Minor burns such as first degree burns and small-area second degree burns can typically be treated at home using basic first aid skills. Third degree burns and large-area second degree burns should be treated by a physician in an emergency room setting or by an on-scene paramedic. Treat minor burns with topical antibiotic ointment and dress properly to prevent infection from occurring. For major burns or burns that you are uncertain about, seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Victims that experience chemical burns or electrical burns should always seek immediate medical care.

Because there are potential complications involved in all burns, it is always best to seek medical attention for anything above a simple first degree burn. If there is any serious swelling or any blistering, a physician will be best outfitted to treat the injury and prevent infection or other complications from occurring.