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Burn injuries are most often caused by coming into contact with fire
but can also be caused by chemicals (such as acids) that can penetrate the
skin, hot liquids (scalding), heated metals (such as a stove top), or electricity.
Burn injuries are most common in children younger than 5 years and in people
aged 65 years and older. The August 13, 2003, issue of JAMA includes
an article about treating burn injuries.
Burns are categorized according to the depth of the burn on the skin,
which is made up of multiple layers. Normal skin functions as a barrier that
keeps toxins and irritants out of the body and moisture in.
First-degree burns—affect only
the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin).
Mild sunburn, with reddening of the skin but no blistering, is a good example
of a first-degree burn. These burns can usually be treated with cool water
and lotions to help soothe the skin.
Second-degree burns—penetrate the
second layer of the skin known as the dermis. These
burns redden the skin and produce blisters and can be very painful. Second-degree
burns may require medical attention.
Third-degree burns—cause extensive
damage to the skin including the subcutaneous layer
located beneath the dermis. The skin may look charred or white.
Fourth-degree burns—involve underlying
fat, muscle, tendons, or bones as well as full thickness of the skin. Medical
attention is required immediately for proper treatment of third- and fourth-degree
Treatment of severe burns may involve skin grafting, where healthy skin
is removed from one part of the body and placed over the burned part. Physical
therapy to prevent stiffening of joints due to excessive scar tissue formation
may also be needed.
The ideal treatment for burn injuries is prevention. Here are some basic
things you can do to prevent burn injuries at home:
Make sure your home has at least one smoke detector on every floor
of the house, and check the batteries at least twice a year.
Keep fire extinguishers handy and know how to use them.
Don't use space heaters near combustible materials like sheets,
newspapers, or drapes, and avoid using extension cords.
Store hazardous materials in safe containers away from children.
Roll up long loose sleeves while cooking.
Turn all pot handles in on the stove.
Make sure bath, sink, and shower water is not too hot before using
Don't smoke, especially in bed.
Have an escape plan in case there is a fire in your house, and
go over it with the entire family.
US Consumer Product Safety Commission800/638-CPSC (2772)http://www.cpsc.gov
American Burn Association312/642-9260http://www.ameriburn.org
To find this and other JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link
on JAMA 's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient
Page on children's burn injuries and prevention was published in the January
5, 2000, issue.
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA . The
information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in
most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific
information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests
that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially
by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients.
Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval. To purchase
bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
Sources: US Consumer Product Safety Commission, American Burn Association,
Home Safety Council, National Fire Protection Association
Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Burn Injuries. JAMA. 2003;290(6):844. doi:10.1001/jama.290.6.844