How to care for burn injuries--from minor to serious

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Whether it's from touching a hot stove or something more serious, burn injuries require serious attention.

According to the American Burn Association, burn injuries sent about 486,000 people to the emergency room in 2016. The main causes of burn injuries include fire-flame, scalds, contact with a hot object and electrical and chemical burns.

Most first- and second-degree burns don't cause serious health consequences. More serious burns, however, require immediate medical attention.

The three types of burns

Burns are divided into first-, second- and third-degree, depending on severity. Symptoms include:

First-degree burns: red, nonblistered skin.

Second-degree burns: blisters and some thickening of skin.

Third-degree burns: widespread thickness, swelling and a dark brown or white, leathery appearance.

How to treat burns

You can treat first-degree burns at home. Soak the burn in cool water for five minutes or longer. Lidocaine cream with aloe vera may help soothe the skin and antibiotic ointment will help protect it.

Second-degree burns require the same treatment, but with more care. Because the skin may blister, and those blisters may pop, it's important to keep the area clean and bandaged.

Third-degree burns can't be treated at home. Without surgery, the wounds may cause severe scarring and infection. To treat a third-degree burn:

• Call 911 or get yourself to an emergency room asap. Most likely you'll need to visit a specialized burn center.

• Raise the injury above your heart.

• Make sure no clothing sticks to the skin.

How doctors treat third-degree burns

Treatment for third-degree burns depends on the location and severity of the burn and other factors, such as your age and overall health. Treatment may include:

• Cleaning and debriding, which involves removing dead skin tissue.

• IV fluids with electrolytes

• IV or oral antibiotics

• Pain medications

• Skin grafting, where doctors cover the burned area with healthy skin.

Some third-degree burn victims have related inhalation or trauma-related injuries. Third-degree burn victims will also likely need reconstructive surgery and lengthy rehabilitation

Other burns that require specialized treatment

The American Burn Association recommends people with the following injuries seek treatment at a specialized burn center:

• Burns that affect 10% of more of total body surface area.

• Burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitalia, perineum or major joints.

• Any third-degree burns.

• Electrical burns, including lightning strikes

• Inhalation injuries

• Chemical burns

• Burn injuries in patients with pre-existing medical conditions that could complicate management, prolong recovery or adversely affect recovery.

• Any burns in a patient with related trauma where the burn poses the greatest risk of morbidity and mortality.

• Pediatric burns in settings without qualified personnel or equipment for pediatric care.

• Burn injuries in patients who will require special social, emotional, or long-term rehabilitative care.

If you put your hand on a hot stove, you likely won't need medical treatment. But if you suffer a serious burn injury, proper treatment is critical for your health and recovery.

Coda: Last year, the Tubbs and Atlas Peak fires were some of the worst we had seen, killing 44 people and destroying 21,000 homes.

The Camp Fire in Butte County is now the worst we've seen, killing 42 people, destroying more than 7,000 structures, leveling the town of Paradise and burning 125,000 acres. And it's only 30 percent contained.

We're thinking of the fire victims, the families of those who lost their lives and the firefighters risking their own lives to fight the horrible blaze. 

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
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