Burns and Electric Shock
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.
many types of burns.
- Heat burns (thermal burns)
are caused by fire, steam, hot objects, or hot liquids. Scald burns from hot
liquids are the most common burns to children and older
- Cold temperature burns are caused by skin exposure to wet, windy, or cold conditions.
- Electrical burns are caused by
contact with electrical sources or by lightning.
- Chemical burns are caused by contact with household or
industrial chemicals in a liquid, solid, or gas form. Natural foods such as
chili peppers, which contain a substance irritating to
the skin, can cause a burning sensation.
- Radiation burns are caused by the sun, tanning booths, sunlamps, X-rays, or
radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
- Friction burns are caused by contact with any hard surface such as roads ("road
rash"), carpets, or gym floor surfaces. They are usually both a scrape
(abrasion) and a heat burn. Athletes who fall on floors, courts, or tracks may get friction burns to the skin. Motorcycle or bicycle riders who have road
accidents while not wearing protective clothing also may get friction burns. For
information on treatment for friction burns, see the topic
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.
seriousness of a burn is determined by several
- The depth, size, cause, affected body area, age,
and health of the burn victim.
- Any other injuries that occurred,
and the need for follow-up care.
Burns affect people of all ages, though some are at higher
risk than others.
- Most burns that occur in children younger than
age 5 are scald burns from hot liquids.
- Over half of all burns
occur in the 18- to 64-year-old age group.
- Older adults are at a
higher risk for burns, mostly scald burns from hot liquids.
are twice as likely to have burn injuries as women.
Burns in children
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.
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
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
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
December 27, 2012
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