Burns and Scalds Explained : Causes, Prevention And Treatment


Tissue damage via heat, intense sunlight, other radiation, chemical contact, or electrical current is known as a burn. Burns can lead to minor medical problems or life-threatening crises.

The burn therapy is determined by the location and severity of the damage. The majority of small burns and sunburns are treatable at home. Rapid medical attention is required for severe or widespread burns. Some individuals need treatment at specialised burn facilities as well as long-term follow-up care.


Burns and scalds are brought on by:

  • Fire
  • Hot water or steam
  • Flaming glass, metal, or other items
  • Currents of electricity
  • Radiation from X-rays
  • Sunlight or other sources of UV radiation, such as tanning beds
  • Chemicals such as lye, paint thinner, gasoline, and strong acids
  • Abuse

How to check if you have a Burn?

Seek immediate medical attention for:

  • Burns that cover a substantial portion of the body such as a major joint, the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or other body parts
  • Deep burns that obliterate all of the skin's layers or even deeper tissues
  • Burns that give the skin a leathery appearance
  • Burns that appear to have burned or have patches of white, brown, or black
  • Chemical burns or electrical burns
  • Breathing difficulties or airway burns

While you are waiting for emergency assistance, practice first aid.

In the event that you notice:

  • Leaking from the wound, more severe pain, redness, and swelling are all indications of infection.
  • A large burn or blister that does not disappear after two weeks
  • Scarring


Burn symptoms vary depending on how much the skin has been harmed. It could take a day or two before serious burn symptoms and warning signs manifest.

Initial burn degree. This slight burn only reaches the skin's outermost layer (epidermis). You could get red and harmed.

Second-degree burn. Both the epidermis and the second layer of skin are affected by this kind of burn (dermis). Skin that is bloated, red, white, or spotty may be the outcome. Blisters might develop, and the discomfort could get really bad. Deep second-degree burns may leave scarring behind.

A third-degree burn. This causes the burning of the fat layer beneath the epidermis. Burned areas could be black, brown, or white in colour. The skin could appear leathery. Third-degree burns can damage nerves, causing numbness.


To lessen the chance of  burns:

  • Never let anything cook on the burner while it is unattended.
  • Turn the pot handles in the direction of the stove's back.
  • A child should never be raised or carried while a parent is preparing food on the stove.
  • Keep children and pets away from hot liquids.
  • Avoid using electrical items near water.
  • Verify the food's temperature before feeding it to a child.
  • Never microwave a bottle for a newborn.
  • Never use a stove that could catch fire while wearing loose-fitting clothing while cooking.
  • Block a young child's access to heat sources including stoves, outdoor barbecues, fireplaces, and space heaters if one is present.
  • Examine the car seat for any heated straps or buckles before putting a child in it.
  • Plugging in irons and comparable equipment when not in use. Keep them away from young children's reach.
  • Use safety caps to cover unused electrical outlets. Keep wires and cords away from children to stop them from chewing on them.
  • Never smoke in bed if you smoke.
  • Make sure the smoke detectors on each story of your home are operational. Replace the batteries and check them at least once a year.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your home on each floor.
  • When handling chemicals, wear protective clothing and goggles at all times.
  • Keep matches, lighters, and chemicals out of children's reach. Implement safety latches. 
  • To avoid scalding, set the thermostat on your water heater below 120 F (48.9 C). Examine the bath water before putting a child in the water.
  • Additionally, be mindful of the risk of burning yourself outside, especially if you're close to chemicals, open flames, or extremely hot objects.


Almost all minor burns can be treated at home. They normally recover in a few weeks.

After administering the proper first aid and performing a wound assessment, your treatment for significant burns may include medications, wound dressings, therapy, and surgery. Controlling discomfort, removing dead tissue, avoiding infection, lowering the risk of scarring, and regaining function are the objectives of treatment.

Treatment at specialised burn centres may be necessary for those with serious burns. Large wounds could require skin grafts to be repaired. In addition, patients might require months of post-treatment care, including physical rehabilitation, and mental support.

Medical attention

After you have received first aid for a serious burn, your medical care could involve prescription drugs and other items that promote recovery.

Therapies based on water. Your medical staff might clean and stimulate the injured tissue using methods like ultrasonic mist therapy.

Fluids to avoid being dehydrated. To avoid dehydration and organ failure, you might require intravenous (IV) fluids.

Anti-anxiety and pain drugs. Burn healing can be excruciatingly painful. Morphine and anti-anxiety drugs could be necessary, especially for dressing changes.

Burn lotions and creams. Your care team may decide on a number of topical medications for wound healing, such as bacitracin and silver sulfadiazine if you are not being transferred to a burn centre. These assist in avoiding infections and preparing the wound so it is ready to heal.

Dressings. To help the wound heal, your care team may also use a variety of specialised wound dressings. Only dry gauze will likely be used to cover your wound if you are being transported to a burn centre.

Medicines to treat infections. You may require IV antibiotics if you become infected.

Tetanus vaccine. After a burn injury, your doctor might advise a tetanus shot.

Occupational and physical therapy

You could require physical rehabilitation exercises if the burned area is significant, especially if it covers any joints. These can aid in stretching the skin, keeping the joints flexible. Other forms of exercise can enhance muscle coordination and strength. Additionally, occupational therapy could be beneficial if you have trouble carrying out your regular daily tasks.

Surgical treatments

You might require one or more of the following procedures:

  • Breathing support. Your throat could close up if your face or neck has been burned. If that seems possible, your doctor may place a tube in your trachea to maintain the flow of oxygen to your lungs.
  • Tube for feeding. People who have sustained severe burns or are malnourished may require nutritional care. Your doctor might insert a feeding tube in your nose and guide it to your stomach.
  • Blood flow around the incision is reduced. A burn scab that completely encircles a limb has the potential to constrict and impair blood flow. It may be challenging to breathe if it completely surrounds the chest. In order to release this pressure, your doctor could cut the scab.
  • Grafted skin. During a skin graft, portions of your own healthy skin are utilised to repair the scar tissue left behind by severe burns. As a temporary fix, donor skin from pigs or deceased donors may be used.
  • Cosmetic surgery. Burn scars can look better and joints affected by scarring can be more flexible after plastic surgery (reconstruction).

Complications of Burns and Scalds

Deep or severe burns may become complicated by things like:

  • Bacteria infection, which could result in a bloodstream infection (sepsis)
  • Low blood volume and fluid loss (hypovolemia)
  • Low body temperature that could be harmful (hypothermia)
  • Breathing issues brought on by inhaling smoke or hot air
  • Ridged or scarred patches brought on by an expansion of scar tissue (keloids)
  • Problems with the bones and joints, such as when skin, muscles, or tendons become shorter and tighter due to scar tissue


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Page last reviewed: Mar 13, 2023

Next review due: Mar 13, 2025

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