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The dangers of burns

Most people have had a burn at some point in their lives, whether from being out in the sun too long or touching a hot surface. If you have suffered this type of burn, you know firsthand that even a mild, first-degree burn can be extremely painful, but did you know that a burn can be fatal?

Skin layers

Doctors measure burn severity by the layer of skin affected. A first-degree burn damages your first layer of skin, and a second-degree burn damages your first and second layers. While these two levels of damage can be painful, it is a burn that does not hurt that you should worry about.

If your skin looks charred, leathery or waxy, and you do not feel any pain, you probably have nerve damage or worse due to a third-degree burn, which penetrates the layers of skin and destroys tissues, muscles, nerves and bone beneath. 

Emergencies

Any deep burn calls for a trip to the emergency department for medical attention, but an apparently less severe burn could also need immediate treatment from a doctor. These include the following:

  • A burn that covers a large area: Your skin is a major organ, and one of its jobs is to control your body temperature. Burned skin cannot perform this function, which could lead to hypothermia or dangerous loss of body heat. 
  • An airway burn or one that causes difficulty breathing: Inhaling hot air or smoke from a fire or inhaling chemical fumes can damage your airway and lungs. If you are having a hard time breathing, you should seek immediate medical attention.
  • An infected burn: There are times when you may not need immediate treatment, but a burn later requires emergency medical attention. Signs of infection include oozing; an increase in swelling, pain and redness; a burn that has not healed after weeks; new symptoms that have no apparent cause; significant scars; and large blisters.
  • An electrical burn: A burn caused by electricity can affect internal tissues and organs, even if there is no evidence of the damage to the skin. Electrocution can cause difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeats, cardiac arrest, muscle pain, seizures and loss of consciousness. 

If you sustained a burn because someone else was negligent, you may be able to seek compensation for damages such as scarring and pain and suffering as well as medical treatment and surgeries.

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