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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Burns and Electric Shock
Most burns are minor injuries that occur at home or work. It is common to get a minor burn from hot water, a curling iron, or touching a hot stove. Home treatment is usually all that is needed for healing and to prevent other problems, such as infection.
There are many types of burns.
Breathing in hot air or gases can injure your lungs (inhalation injuries). Breathing in toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, can cause poisoning.
Burns injure the skin layers and can also injure other parts of the body, such as muscles, blood vessels, nerves, lungs, and eyes. Burns are defined as first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree, depending on how many layers of skin and tissue are burned. The deeper the burn and the larger the burned area, the more serious the burn is.
The seriousness of a burn is determined by several things, including:
Burns affect people of all ages, though some are at higher risk than others.
Babies and young children may have a more severe reaction from a burn than an adult. A burn in an adult may cause a minor loss of fluids from the body, but in a baby or young child, the same size and depth of a burn may cause a severe fluid loss.
A child's age determines how safe his or her environment needs to be, as well as how much the child needs to be supervised. At each stage of a child's life, look for burn hazards and use appropriate safety measures. Since most burns happen in the home, simple safety measures decrease the chance of anyone getting burned. See the Prevention section of this topic.
When a child or vulnerable adult is burned, it is important to find out how the burn happened. If the reported cause of the burn does not match how the burn looks, abuse must be considered and resources for help, such as social services, offered. Self-inflicted burns will require treatment as well as an evaluation of the person's emotional health.
Infection is a concern with all burns. Watch for signs of infection during the healing process. Home treatment for a minor burn will reduce the risk of infection. Deep burns with open blisters are more likely to become infected and need medical treatment.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
It can be hard to tell how deep a burn is.
Some common burn patterns and common areas for burns that result from abuse include:
With burns caused by abuse, the explanation for the burn may not match the size, shape, or location of the burn. But it still can be hard to tell whether a burn was caused on purpose. A burn caused by throwing hot liquid on someone may look just like a burn caused by an accidental spill.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Heartbeat changes can include:
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Here are some ways to estimate how much of the body is burned in an adult or older child.
Here are some ways to estimate how much of the body is burned in a baby or young child.
Symptoms of infection may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
To clean a wound well:
If a chemical has caused a wound or burn, follow the instructions on the chemical's container or call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) to find out what to do. Most chemicals should be rinsed off with lots of water, but with some chemicals, water may make the burn worse.
You may need a tetanus shot depending on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Most minor burns will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your symptoms and promote healing. But if you suspect you may have a more severe injury, use first-aid measures while you arrange for an evaluation by your doctor.
If you are going to see your doctor soon:
It is important to protect a burn while it is healing. Newly healed burns can be sensitive to temperature. Healing burns need to be protected from the cold because the burned area is more likely to develop frostbite. And a newly burned area can sunburn easily. Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher should be used to protect the new skin for the first year after a burn.
You may be able to treat second-degree burns at home.
Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
First-degree burns and minor second-degree burns can be painful. Try the following to help relieve your pain:
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Most burns happen in the home. Simple safety measures decrease the chances of anyone getting burned.
Your local fire department is a good resource for more information on how to prevent fires, make a fire escape plan, use fire safety devices, and provide first-aid treatment for burns.
Teach children safety rules for matches, fires, electrical outlets, electrical cords, stoves, and chemicals. Keep in mind child safety considerations. Prevention tips for children include the following:
In general, avoid placing camping tents under tall trees, near bodies of water, or on the highest hill in an area. Seek shelter in a covered area, such as a car, if you get caught outdoors in bad weather. If no shelter is available, lie on the ground in a ditch or take cover in a thick grove of trees, where lightning striking a single tree is unlikely.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topicMaking the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
October 19, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineH. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: October 19, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
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