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March 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Few injuries are more frightening or painful than a serious burn. The skin may be burned from heat, steam, scalding liquids, the sun, chemicals, or electricity. Treatment is based on the type of burn, the severity of the burn, the location of the burn, and the source of the burn. Severe burns can destroy all skin layers and damage the underlying muscle and fat.

Heat burns can be caused by wet heat, such as scalding hot water, or dry heat, caused by a flame. These burns are classified by degree. A first-degree burn affects only the skin surface and is considered the most minor of all burns. The skin is usually red and slightly swollen. A second-degree burn affects the skin surface and the layer just beneath the skin surface. Blisters and swelling may occur. A third-degree burn, the most serious, results in white or blackened skin layers, is extremely painful, and involves all layers of the skin.

Chemical burns are caused by caustic substances that can be either acidic or alkaline. If the source of the burn is acidic, use water to wash the chemical off the wound. If the source of the burning agent is alkaline, it is vital not to wet the wound because that can cause further burning. Symptoms of chemical burns include redness of the skin, blistering, swelling, and peeling.

Electrical burns are caused by electric shock. It is important to realize that the body is electrically charged and that the heart functions on tiny pulses of electricity. Electrical burns have the potential to disrupt the heartbeat and cause cardiac and respiratory arrest. Be aware that severe electrical burns quite often do not display much damage on the surface layer of skin. The real damage is deeper in the layers underneath.

Consult your doctor about your burn under the following circumstances:

  • All electrical burns
  • Any burn located on the face, the mouth, the hands, or the genitals
  • Any burn that covers more than 10 percent of the body or completely encircles an arm or a leg
  • Any burn that blisters or turns the skin white
  • Any burn that remains red or oozes longer than twenty-four hours and intensifies in pain

Natural therapies can be very effective in relieving the pain of minor burns and, to some degree, major burns (along with pain medicines). They are even more effective in promoting faster skin healing and may help in the prevention of secondary skin infections.

Next: What are the Symptoms of a Burn

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