Diseases & Conditions



What is Burn?

A burn is a flesh injury caused due to light, heat, chemical or radiation. The injury caused is often only to skin. They can however can be deeper and injure even the bones.

Causes of Burns

Burns can have several causes. Fire accidents are the common cause of major fourth degree burns. Other causes include

  • Chemical burns are caused due to acid or alkaline chemicals. They tend to eat the skin away and even affect the bone. Sometimes the extent of damage caused due to these are not evident.
  • A burn can also be caused due to electric shock. Apart from the injury itself, several other organs of the body may get damaged due to them.
  • Radiation burns, the most common of which is sun burn, are caused due to exposure to irradiating rays like X rays, Ultra violet rays. Tanning booths are most common places where these burns occur. Exposure to ultra violet rays also increases the risk of skin cancer.
  • A scalding is caused when hot liquids spill on the skin. A common character of this are blisters or boils filled with fluid. These blisters often break away after few days and the skin underneath grows.

Complications of Burns

A major complication of burn is infection. Owing to the dead skin, infection causing elements can easily grow. As the immune system is impaired, the body cannot fight off the infection. Burn wounds are also prone to tetanus. Multiple organ dysfunction, respiratory problems and electrolytic imbalances in addition to death due to the injuries, are other complications.

Risk of infections is higher if

  • Burn > 30% total body surface area
  • Full-thickness
  • Extremes in age (very young, very old)
  • Preexisting disease e.g. diabetes
  • Virulence and antibiotic resistance of colonizing organism
  • Failed skin graft
  • Improper initial wound care
  • Prolonged open wound

Diagnosis of the severity of Burns

While most minor burns can be treated with first aid and with outpatient care at a local physician clinic, major ones require immediate attention. In such cases, the extent of damage while clearly cannot be determined, needs to be estimated in order to determine the course of treatment. If an organ has sustained fourth degree burns, then it needs to be amputated in order to prevent infection and spread to other organs. The estimation of degree of burning is carried out by a specialist.

Prevention of Burns

Often burns are accidental and can be prevented by being careful. Care must be exercised when using electrical appliances. Sunscreens can effectively prevent sun burn and help keep the skin healthy.

Prognosis of Burns

The recovery from burns depends on the extent of injury and kind of treatment received. Presence of other conditions like diabetes, which can hamper healing, can affect prognosis. Advances in surgical treatment, resuscitation, treatment of infection and its control have resulted in improvement of prognosis over the last several years.

Treatment of Burns

Treatment for burns begins with stopping the burning and thereby reducing the depth and extent of injury. After this is done, the individual’s breathing and circulation has to be secured if required.

If the burn is minor, then it can be adequately treated at home before going to the hospital. The objective of first treatment is to cool the body adequately to prevent further damage.

In the hospital, the extent of the burn is assessed and treatment is started accordingly. Fluids are given in order to rehydrate and restore vital fluid pressures in the body. After the injured has been stabilized, wound care is started.

Wound care involves removing the burnt tissue and dressing it. Then antibiotics are given in order reduce infection. Since they are very painful pain management with analgesic is essential. Depending on the extent of burn, pain management is done. Burns that are major and cover large parts of the body often require immediate surgery.

Sun burns can be treated by reducing exposure to sun and by promoting skin healing by dermatological treatment.

Types of Burns

Burns can be classified according to the depth and area of the burnt surface.

  • Depth – According to the depth of the burns, they are classified as first, second, third or fourth degree. Each of them varies in depth, with the first being superficial and the fourth being the deepest.
  • Area – The area of the burnt surface with respect with to the body’s total surface area is also used to classify them. Burns more than 10 % are considered life threatening.