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Burns

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Burn injuries are some of the most common injuries that people experience. Burn treatment typically begins at the hospital, where emergency room staff will assess the seriousness of the burn and begin fluid therapy. For more serious burns, patients may be transferred to a burn unit for further treatment. The type of treatment that a patient receives will depend on the severity of the burn, but may include skin grafts, surgery, and physical therapy. In some cases, patients may also need psychological support to deal with the emotional trauma of their injury. Regardless of the type of treatment that is required, burns can be painful and difficult to recover from. However, with proper medical care and support, most people can make a full recovery.

Mass trauma and disasters such as explosions and fires can cause a variety of serious injuries, including burns. These can include thermal burns, which are caused by contact with flames, hot liquids, hot surfaces, and other sources of high heat as well as chemical burns and electrical burns. It is vital that people understand how to behave safely in mass trauma and fire situations, as well as comprehend basic principles of first aid for burn victims. For burns, immediate care can be lifesaving.

Note: Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases, not from burns (Hall 2001). This guideline covers burn injuries.

Background Information

  • On average in the United States in 2000, someone died in a fire every 2 hours, and someone was injured every 23 minutes (Karter 2001).

  • Each year in the United States, 1.1 million burn injuries require medical attention (American Burn Association, 2002).

    o Approximately 50,000 of these require hospitalization; 20,000 have major burns involving at least 25 percent of their total body surface, and approximately 4,500 of these people die.

  • Up to 10,000 people in the United States die every year of burn-related infections.

  • Only 60 percent of Americans have an escape plan, and of those, only 25 percent have practiced it (NFPA, 1999).

Smoke alarms cut your chances of dying in a fire in half (NFPA, 1999).

 

Escape Information

  • Install smoke detectors on each floor of your home. One must be outside the bedroom.
  • Change batteries in smoke detectors at least once a year. (Never borrow smoke alarm batteries for other purposes).

  • Keep emergency phone numbers and other pertinent information posted close to your telephone.

  • Draw a floor plan and find two exits from each room. Windows can serve as emergency exits.

  • Practice getting out of the house through the various exits.

  • Designate a meeting place at a safe distance outside the home.

  • Respond to every alarm as if it were a real fire.

  • Call the fire department after escaping. Tell them your address and don’t hang up

    until you’re told to do so. Let them know if anyone is trapped inside.

  • Never go back into a burning building to look for missing people, pets, property, etc. Wait for firefighters.

  • Safeguard Your Home

First Aid

What you do to treat a burn in the first few minutes after it occurs can make a huge difference in the severity of the injury.

Immediate Treatment for Burn Victims

  1. “Stop, Drop, and Roll” to smother flames.

  2. Remove all burned clothing. If clothing adheres to the skin, cut or tear around

    burned area.

  3. Remove all jewelry, belts, tight clothing, etc., from over the burned areas and from

    around the victim’s neck. This is very important; burned areas swell immediately.

Types of Burns

First-Degree Burns: First-degree burns involve the top layer of skin. Sunburn is a first- degree burn.


Signs:

  • Red

  • Painful to touch

  • Skin will show mild swelling

    Treatment:

  • Apply cool, wet compresses, or immerse in cool, fresh water. Continue until pain subsides.

  • Cover the burn with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth.

  • Do not apply ointments or butter to burn; these may cause infection.

  • Over-the-counter pain medications may be used to help relieve pain and reduce

    inflammation.

  • First degree burns usually heal without further treatment. However, if a first-

    degree burn covers a large area of the body, or the victim is an infant or elderly, seek emergency medical attention.

Second-Degree Burns: Second-degree burns involve the first two layers of skin.

 

Signs:

  • Deep reddening of the skin

  • Pain

  • Blisters

  • Glossy appearance from leaking fluid

  • Possible loss of some skin

    Treatment:

  • Immerse in fresh, cool water, or apply cool compresses. Continue for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Dry with clean cloth and cover with sterile gauze.

  • Do not break blisters.

  • Do not apply ointments or butter to burns; these may cause infection

  • Elevate burned arms or legs.

  • Take steps to prevent shock: lay the victim flat, elevate the feet about 12

    inches, and cover the victim with a coat or blanket. Do not place the victim in the shock position if a head, neck, back, or leg injury is suspected, or if it makes the victim uncomfortable.

  • Further medical treatment is required. Do not attempt to treat serious burns unless you are a trained health professional.

     

Third-Degree Burns: A third-degree burn penetrates the entire thickness of the skin and permanently destroys tissue.


Signs:

Loss of skin layers

  • Often painless. (Pain may be caused by patches of first- and second-degree

    burns which often surround third-degree burns)

  • Skin is dry and leathery

  • Skin may appear charred or have patches that appear white, brown or black.

Treatment:

  • Cover burn lightly with sterile gauze or clean cloth. (Don’t use material that can leave lint on the burn).

  • Do not apply ointments or butter to burns; these may cause infection

  • Take steps to prevent shock: lay the victim flat, elevate the feet about 12 inches.

  • Have person sit up if face is burned. Watch closely for possible breathing

    problems.

  • Elevate burned area higher than the victim’s head when possible. Keep person

    warm and comfortable, and watch for signs of shock.

  • Do not place a pillow under the victim’s head if the person is lying down and

    there is an airway burn. This can close the airway.

  • Immediate medical attention is required. Do not attempt to treat serious burns unless you are a trained health professional.

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