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The 6 Most Common Burns and How to Treat Them

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Burns are one of the most common injuries. The American Burn Association reports that 450,000 burn injuries are treated each year. Though most of these burns aren’t life-threatening (burn injuries have a 94% survival rate), they can be painful or debilitating, especially if they aren’t treated correctly. Here are the six most common kinds of burns, and how to take care of them properly.


# 6: Chemical Burns

Chemical burns make up 3% of annual burn injuries. These burns result from exposure to household or industrial chemicals. Contact with some foods, such as chili peppers, can also produce a burning sensation.

Treatment: Minor external chemical burns can be treated at home by flushing the exposed area with water to dilute the substance. Any burns involving ingestion or eye exposure should be addressed with a medical professional.

Prevention: Always wear the appropriate protective gear (such as safety goggles and rubber gloves) when handling strong chemicals. Supervise any children handling harsh chemicals such as bleach and industrial cleaner.

If you or a loved one has received chemical burns at work or due to the negligence of someone else, you may have a personal injury case. Talk to a personal injury lawyer, like those from Edmonton firm Cummings Andrews Mackay LLP, to find out what your legal options are.


# 5: Electrical Burns

Approximately 4% of burn injuries are caused from exposure to an electrical current.

Treatment: Before attempting to move or treat an electrical burn victim, ensure that they are no longer touching the electrical source or that the electricity has been turned off. Minor electrical shock can be treated with aspirin and some rest. If the victim experienced prolonged exposure or a high voltage shock, call 911 immediately, especially if they seem confused or their heart rate is inconsistent. To prevent shock, have the victim lay down with their legs elevated.

Prevention: Exercise proper caution around sources of electricity. Address exposed wires as soon as you notice them. Do not use electronics near water.


# 4: Alternative Burns

Alternative burns include sunburns, inhalation burns, and firework-related injuries. These injuries account for about 7% of total treated burns each year.

Treatment: Minor burns, characterized by redness and some swelling, should be cooled using room temperature or cool water. Do not use cold water or ice on a new burn as the burned skin is fragile. Exposure to cold may cause frostbite or further tissue damage. Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Don’t use a material that will leave fibers in the wound (like cotton).

Most sunburns can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication and after-sun creams or aloe vera. However, if the sunburn produces blisters, you may need to visit a doctor. Don’t puncture any blisters before consulting with a physician.

Prevention: Apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses and a hat when you are in the sun for an extended period of time. Always follow instructions when handling fireworks and other legal explosives. Keep explosives out of the reach of children.


# 3: Thermal Burns

Contact with hot objects, such as a clothes iron or stove top element, causes 8% of burns.

Treatment: Thermal burns can usually be treated with cool water and pain medication as described above. However, if you notice signs of infection or the pain lasts more than a few hours, contact a physician. If the burn affects sensitive areas such as the genitals, inner thigh, or face, seek medical attention immediately.

Prevention: Turn off heat sources such as ovens, irons, hair straighteners and curling irons when not in use. If you aren’t sure whether or not an object is hot, hold your hand above it before touching it. Do not leave hot objects within reach of children.


# 2: Scalding

32% of all burn injuries are due to contact with hot liquid, such as boiling water, coffee, or steam.

Treatment: If the injury is the result of a spill, remove any wet clothing and run cool water over the affected skin. Keep the victim warm to avoid the risk of shock. Treat pain with aspirin or ibuprofen.

Prevention: Practice caution when handling hot liquids. Double check that lids on coffee cups and thermoses are secure. Always temperature-check liquid before giving it to an infant or child by placing a few drops on your wrist.


# 1: Contact Burns

Nearly half of all burn injuries—46%—are the result of direct contact with an open flame. These burns are most likely to cause second- or third-degree injuries.

Treatment: Second-degree burns are marked by very red or blotchy skin, blisters, severe pain, and swelling. Small, localized second-degree burns can be taken care of at home, but if the affected area is larger than a few inches in diameter or affects a sensitive area, seek medical attention.

Third-degree burns will require immediate medical attention. Major burns may produce charred skin and nerve damage. Do not attempt to remove any burned clothing as this may tear the underlying skin. Do not immerse severe burns in cold water; exposure to cold may cause hypothermia. Take measures to prevent shock while you are waiting for emergency medical services.

Prevention: Always handle open flame carefully. Do not allow rough-housing near a fire or camp stove.


Burns can be painful and frightening, but by taking the appropriate precautions and treating injuries properly, you can protect you and your family from these injuries.


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