Up to 2 million Americans seek medical attention for burns each year, some minor and some more serious. In fact, up to 70,000 people are hospitalized for burns every year in the United States, one-third of who are children younger than 15 years of age. But what happens to your skin when it is burned? And what is the difference between degrees of burn?
The skin is the body’s largest organ which covers the body to help regulate body temperature. The skin’s glands produce sweat and sebum, an oily substance that helps keep the skin from drying out. Sweat and sebum get to the surface of the skin through tiny openings called pores. The skin also contains a fine network or nerves that allow us to feel sensation and pain. All these components of the skin protect the body against heat, light, injury and infection. The main layers of the skin include:
Epidermis - The epidermis is the outer layer of skin, which is mostly made of flat, scale – like cells called squamous cells. Under the squamous cells are round cells called basal cells.
Dermis - The inner dermis is the deepest part skin and is made of cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, which gives the skin its color. The inner layer of the skin also contains:
- blood vessels
- hair follicles
- lymph vessels
What are burns?
A burn is an injury to the skin caused by exposure to heat, chemicals or radiation. Specifically, burns occur when the skin is exposed to heat (from fire or hot liquids), electricity, corrosive chemicals, or radiation (UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, or radiation treatments). The most serious burns are usually caused by scalding hot or flammable liquids, and fires. Exposure to chemicals and electrical currents also cause severe injury and damage to the skin.
Types of burns
Burns are classified as minor, moderate, or severe. The severity of a burn is based on how they are predicted to heal and whether complications are likely. Doctors also determine the severity of the burn by its depth and by the percentage of the body surface that has covered by burns. Main types of burns include:
Minor burns - All first-degree burns as well as second-degree burns that involve less than 10% of the body surface usually are classified as minor.
Moderate and severe burns - Burns involving the hands, feet, face, or genitals, second-degree burns involving more than 10% of the body surface area, and all third-degree burns involving more than 1% of the body are classified as moderate or, more often, as severe.
- First-degree burns - Affect only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis), causing pain and redness.
- Second-degree burns - Extend to the second layer of the skin (the dermis), causing pain, redness, and blisters that may ooze.
- Third-degree burns - Involve both layers of the skin and may also damage the underlying bones, muscles, and tendons. The burn site also appears pale, charred, or leathery. There is generally no pain in the area because the nerve endings are destroyed.
Are children more at risk of being burned than adults? What causes burns? Learn more in the next section on risk factors and what causes a burn here.
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