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Answering any burning questions

When I talk to friends about their childhood, a common story among them is unwittingly putting their hand, or in some cases their entire arm, on a hot stove. In fact, I also have one of these childhood stories of putting my hand on a hot stove just to see what it would feel like. Yeah, I know, I was a child prodigy right? All joking aside, whether you cook in the kitchen or work with solutions as a chemist, burns are not an uncommon injury and are particularly common in children.

There are three types of burns: first-degree, second-degree and third-degree burns. Each type is clinically different in terms of what symptoms appear, how to treat them and even whether you should go to the hospital or not. Therefore, it is important to be able to distinguish between these three types of burns and how to treat them accordingly.

First-degree burns are typically associated with redness, no blistering and pain. These are rarely serious enough to go see a doctor and are commonly treated at home. However, you should see a doctor for first-degree burns if it covers a large surface area of the skin, is on the face or genitalia or is on a major joint, such as the elbow or shoulder. 

If none of these conditions are met, then it can be treated at home. To treat it, first make sure that the fire has completely stopped. Second, soak the wound in cool water. Third, use an antibiotic ointment and gauze to disinfect and secure the injury. 

It is also vital to remove jewelry or clothing from the affected area. These will typically just get in the way of examination or treatment. If necessary, an individual can be given ibuprofen as a pain relief. Personally, if I sustained any sort of burn, I know I would be begging for some ibuprofen. 

Second-degree burns are more severe than first-degree and are typically associated with pain and blistering. They can either be mild enough to be treated at home or serious enough to see a doctor, where they can pursue other, more invasive treatments. Severe second-degree burns vary from mild second-degree burns in a number of ways. 

Severe second-degree burns typically cover a widespread area or cover important regions such as the face, groin, hands and buttocks.  It is always important to err on the side of caution with any injury and to see a doctor if you have any doubts. Better to be safe than sorry! 

However, if you decide that it is more mild than serious, then the process for treatment is generally the same as for first-degree. Stop the burning process, soak the injury in cool water, use antibiotic ointment to disinfect the wound and give painkillers for pain relief. You can also cover the wound in a small amount of gauze to stabilize the burn and protect it from the outside environment. 

Third-degree burns are the most severe and are very nasty. They make the skin feel leathery to the touch, and do not form blisters. The skin is typically a white color and is completely void of any pigmentation. As nasty as this sounds, these burns are actually completely painless, but for a more disturbing reason. They are often painless because the damage completely eats through the layer of skin and damages the pain nerves. Do not try to use a home remedy on a third-degree burn, as it is essential to seek medical attention immediately.

It is essential to note throughout all of this that even if you are sure you do not need to see a doctor or if you are unsure, it never hurts to get the advice of one. Although most people can recover from burns without serious consequences, it is important to know the steps to take when confronted with a situation like this. By being educated on the proper steps, you increase the probability of a full recovery. 

(Note: These articles are good-faith attempts to be helpful to the Brandeis community and are by no means to be taken as universal. This article does not replace the advice of a medical professional. This article is not written on behalf of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and is not affiliated with BEMCo in any manner.)

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