A burn is damage to the skin and sometimes to the underlying tissues. Burns are categorized according to the depth and extent of the damage to the skin:
Classification of Skin Burns
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Burns can be caused by:
Burns are more common in males, and in those aged under 4 years. Other factors that may increase the chance of burns include:
Burn symptoms and signs vary depending on the type of burn.
The doctor will ask how the burn occurred and will examine the burned area.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the burn, how deep the burn is, and how much of the body the burn covers. Doctors have methods and charts to estimate the total percentage of body surface area (TBSA) affected by the injury. This estimate is age dependent. For example, the head represents a larger percentage of surface area in a baby than in an adult.
Quick treatment is important and can lessen the damage to the tissues. First aid for minor burns may involve:
Once a minor burn is completely cooled, you can consider using a fragrance-free lotion or moisturizer to prevent drying and make the area more comfortable.
For more serious burns, like deep partial-thickness or full-thickness burns, seek medical attention or call emergency medical services. Until an emergency unit arrives:
A doctor will decide if hospitalization is necessary based on many factors. These include age, the cause of the burn, and the extent and depth of the burn. Reasons to hospitalize a person who has more than a minor burn may include:
If the burn is serious, the following treatments may be administered in a hospital:
Most burns are the result of accidents. To help reduce the chance of burns:
American Burn Association
National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health
Canadian Burn Survivors Community
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First aid for burns. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/First-Aid-For-Burns.aspx. Updated September 2, 2014. Accessed November 3, 2014.
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Major burns. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113804/Major-burns. Updated January 26, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2016.
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Minor burns. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T901428/Minor-burns. Updated March 19, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2016.
Protect the ones you love: burns. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/SafeChild/Fact_Sheets/Burns-Fact-Sheet-a.pdf. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Topical treatment and dressing of burns. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T901805/Topical-treatment-and-dressing-of-burns. Updated March 19, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2016.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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