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Burn symptoms and treatments

Chances are, if you've ever cooked, used matches or played in the sun, you've experienced some kind of burn. A burn is an injury to the dermal tissue resulting in a range of symptoms from redness to charring. Burns are typically associated with extreme or prolonged exposure to heat, but they may also be caused by electricity, chemicals, friction and even cold. The symptoms and treatment of a burn depend on the type and on the severity, which can range from minor to fatal.

Degree Burns

Burns are classified by degrees, with each degree representing greater severity and increased likelihood of permanent damage or death.

First degree burns are superficial – limited only to the outer layer of skin (epidermis). They are fairly common and usually result in no more than redness and slight pain at the site.

Second degree burns affect the deeper skin layers (dermis) and result in redness, pain and blistering.

Third degree burns involve damage to the ligaments, tendons and muscles. Generally, the epidermis and much of the dermis is lost. These burns actually tend to be less painful because of damage to the nerves, but they often result in scarring and can be fatal if they affect a significant portion of the body.

There are also fourth, fifth, and sixth degree burns, but these are less common classifications, often used to assess burn damage postmortem.

Treating Burns

The treatment of a burn will depend partly on its degree. Some second degree burns and all third degree burns require professional medical treatment. Most first degree burns can be treated by anyone with basic first aid.

Burn treatment also depends on the type of burn. Sun burns, for example, are usually treated at home with a mixture of cool compresses and over-the-counter aids like aloe vera gel. Chemical burns, on the other hand, generally require a visit to the emergency room for a medical assessment of the damage and any further danger, as well as a certain amount of professional follow-up care.

Burns, even minor ones, are injuries, and should be treated as such. Proper care and treatment are essential to prevent infection and promote healing. As with other injuries, if you have any doubts, seek medical advice. And remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Wear sunscreen, use caution when handling hot (or cold) items and know the safety procedures when using chemicals, electricity or other potentially dangerous materials. The best way to treat a burn is not to get one in the first place!

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