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Burns can be easily described as the damage caused to the tissues of the body due to overexposure to the sun or contact with flames, hazardous chemicals or high voltage electricity. 

The burns can be superficial or deep. By having awareness about the degree and type of burn, you can help a person in need. Basic first-aid knowledge can help prevent permanent damage like loss of function in the affected area.

There are two main layers of skin: the epidermis (superficial or outer layer) and dermis (second or deep layer of skin). The burns are called minor when they damage just the epidermis, whereas if the damage exceeds to the dermis then it is called a major burn.

First aid acts as primary care for the people in need. Minor burns can be treated at home but the major ones need to be shown to a medical professional. Do not try to treat any major burn all by yourself or else you might end up worsening the situation.

  1. Types of burns
  2. Degrees of burn
  3. First aid for burns

Burns can result from a thermal, chemical, radiation and electrical contact. Burns can also occur due to continuous friction.

  • Thermal burns: These burns occur due to a heat source that increases the temperature of the skin and deeper tissues which leads to the death or charring of the tissues. Things like hot metals (cooking pans), boiling liquids (tea, coffee, soups), steam or direct contact of the skin with the fire can lead to thermal burns.
  • Chemical burns: Chemical burns can occur when a harsh irritant such as strong acids, slaked lime, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), hydrochloric acid (HCl) come in contact with your skin or eyes, causing severe damage.
  • Radiation burns: People who are exposed to heavy radiations on a regular basis, like cancer patients, for whom the radiation is used to kill the tumour cells, are more prone to radiation burns. Some people may also get burns due to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun. The burns can either look like mild rashes or severe ulcerations.
  • Electrical burns: Electrical shock can cause severe burns. Since the body’s internal system is not resistant to electricity, when an electric jolt enters the body, it not only injures the outer skin but also the vital internal organs. Children accidentally biting onto open cable wires and coming in contact with faulty electrical appliances or a plugged-in appliance dropped in water are some of the sources of an electric shock. 
  • Friction burns: When a part of your body continuously rubs or scrapes against any hard surface, then it can cause severe burns to the skin. Physical activities that can result in friction burns are tug-of-war, rock climbing and aerial acrobatics. These burns are minor but can cause pain due to continuous irritation.

On the basis of severity and extent, burns are divided into three degrees:

1. First degree burns: These burns are also called superficial burns as the damage does not exceed the epidermis. These are mild burns and the site of burn may appear red, painful but with no blisters.

2. Second-degree burns: These burns are also called partial-thickness burns as there is damage to the epidermis and dermis layer of the skin. The site of the burn appears red, swollen and is covered in fluid-filled blisters.

3. Third-degree burns: These burns are also called full-thickness burns as the damage goes beyond the dermis. These burns are severe and the site of burn appears charred and white. Due to the loss of muscles, tendons and nerves, the site feels numb and may have no sensation.

Different burns may require a different approach for their management. Medications like paracetamol and ibuprofen can be taken to deal with the pain.

First aid for thermal burns

If someone receives a thermal burn, your first course of action needs to be to make sure the victim is no longer in contact with the source of the burn. For instance, put out the fire around the victim.

  • With the use of cold water, cool the burnt area. Do not apply ice to the area, as it may damage the skin. 
  • In the case of mild burns (first-degree burns), the victim may feel relieved by cold water only. After some time, you can apply burn creams and ointments to treat the burns. 
  • For more severe burns (second and third-degree burns), clean the affected area with running water and apply a loose sterile bandage onto the burned area. Call for medical help.
  • Do not try to remove the clothes directly in contact with the burnt area. You can remove the clothes around the burn.
  • If blisters start to appear on the skin, do not pop or peel them.
  • If a blister breaks on its own, clean the area with water. Apply an antibiotic ointment. 

First aid for chemical burns

If you or someone around you receive a chemical burn, keep calm and follow the instructions below. 

  • Don’t start scratching the area.
  • Use water to flush the area but make sure that the water runs off the burnt site and does not pool onto the skin because this can make the chemical spread to a wider area. 
  • If any chemical enters your eye, do not rub the eyes as it can damage the cornea (outer layer of the eye). Sit under a faucet or in a gentle source of running water. Tilt your face in such a way that the injured eye is down and to the side.
  • Without applying high pressure, let the water flow through the eyes for about 15 minutes to remove traces of the chemical. Call for medical help.

First aid for radiation burns

Since the radiation burns develop with time, you can keep certain things in mind in order to manage them. 

  • Do not use perfumed soap or toiletries for cleaning the affected area.
  • Gently pat dry the skin using a soft towel.
  • Avoid application of any talcum powder, creams or gels in the affected area.
  • You may use a non-toxic, un-perfumed emollient to cleanse, soothe and soften the skin. Emollients will help maintain the moisture levels and integrity of the skin.
  • You should apply sunscreen lotions onto the body with at least SPF30 in them while going out in sun. 

First aid for electrical burns

In case of someone receiving an electrical burn, do not endanger yourself and make sure that the electrical supply has been cut off before you touch the victim.

  • Once the scene is clear, check for the victim’s vitals (heartbeat, breath sounds, consciousness) and then check the burnt area. 
  • If the burn is mild, soak the area in cool water. You can also put a cloth drenched in cool water on top of the affected area. Do not apply ice on the affected area, as it can worsen the situation.
  • You can apply a burn cream or an antibiotic ointment to soothe the skin and prevent infection.
  • In case of severe electric burns, call for emergency medical assistance.

First aid for friction burns

If someone around you gets a friction burn, you can immediately do the following to care for the area and avoid infections. 

  • Clean the friction burn with running water and make sure no debris and rope fragments is stuck to the wound. 
  • In the case of unavailability of running water, use a cool compress. Do not apply ice to the wound, as this may further damage tissue.
  • You can apply cooling agents like aloe vera or burn ointments to the wound. Do not apply butter or ghee on the wound, as it can lead to bacterial infection.
  • If the burnt area is deep, cover it lightly with a clean gauze bandage and call for medical help.
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