Home Health Those burning issues

Those burning issues


Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

If February is the month for lovers, March is associated with something hot. At the time of the presidency of Corazon C. Aquino, March has been declared as Burn Prevention Month. Previously, it was also known as Fire Prevention Month.

Both are very much interrelated, considering that if there is fire, a human being trapped inside a burning place can get burned to death if not scarred for life.

Indeed, burns are as serious a matter as fires are. No one knows for sure how many people are burned in the Philippines, “but most burn injuries are caused by home accidents,” according to the Philippine Society of Burn Injuries (PSBI).

“Burns are one of the most expensive of traumatic injuries due to the extended hospital stay and rehabilitation,” said a study done by Margarita E. Elloso and Jose Joven V. Cruz. “The injuries result in higher rates of permanent disability and economic hardship for the individual as well as their families.”

Unknowingly, most people think fire is the only cause of burns, but some chemicals and electrical current can burn as well. “Although the skin is usually the part of the body that’s burned, the tissues under it also can be burned, and internal organs can be burned even when the skin is not,” says The Merck Manual of Medical Information.

For example, drinking a very hot liquid or “caustic substance” such as acid can burn the esophagus and stomach. Inhaling smoke and hot air from a fire in a burning building can burn the lungs.

Tissues that are burned may die. When a burn damages tissues, fluid leaks from blood vessels, causing swelling. In an extensive burn, loss of a large amount of fluid from abnormally leaky blood vessels can cause shock. In shock, blood pressure decreases so much that too little blood flows to the brain and other vital organs.

A temperature of more than 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit, generated by an electric current when it passes from the electrical source to the body, may cause electrical burns. “This type of burn, sometimes called an electrical arc burn, usually completely destroys and chars the skin at the current’s point of entry into the body,” the home edition of the Merck manual explains.

“Because the resistance (the body’s ability to stop or slow the current’s flow) is high where the skin touches the current’s source, much of the electrical energy is converted to heat there, burning the surface,” the manual continues. “Most electrical burns also severely damage the tissues under the skin. These burns vary in size and depth and may affect an area much larger than that indicated by the area of injured skin. Large electrical shocks can paralyze breathing and disturb heart rhythm, causing dangerously irregular heartbeats.”

Chemical burns, on the other hand, can be caused by various irritants and poisons, including strong acids and alkalis, phenols and cresols (organic solvents), mustard gas, and phosphorus. “Chemical burns can cause tissue death that can slowly spread for hours after the burn,” the Merck manual notes.

Medical experts say there are three kinds of burns. The so-called “first-degree burn” is the least severe. The burned skin becomes red, painful, very sensitive to the touch, and moist or swollen. The burned area whitens (blanches) when lightly touched, but no blisters develop. This type of burn can be treated at home.

If the dermis or underlying skin is affected and tiny blood vessels are injured, this is called a “second degree burn.” Here, fluid leaks from the damaged blood vessels, causing swelling and blistering immediately within 24 hours. This kind of burn is painful but often not serious except when it is large or infected.

Second-degree burns take about two to three weeks to heal and don’t usually leave a scar. Some of them can be treated at home.

A “third-degree burn” affects the deepest layers of the skin and requires immediate medical attention. “The surface of the burn may be white and soft or black, charred, and leathery,” the Merck manual states. “Because the burned area may be pale, it can be mistaken for normal skin in light-skinned people, but it doesn’t blanch when touched. 

“Damaged red blood cells in the injured area may make the burn bright red. Occasionally, the burned area blisters, and hairs in the burn can easily be pulled from their roots. The burned area has no feeling when touched. Generally, third-degree burns aren’t painful, because the nerve endings in the skin have been destroyed.”

Third-degree burns take up to two months to heal and always leave a scar.

Other burns that demand a doctor’s immediate attention, according to The Doctors Book of Home Remedies, include:

· Burns on the face, hands, feet, pelvic and pubic areas, or in the eyes.

· Any burn that you aren’t sure is first- or second-degree;

· Burns that show signs of infection, including a blister filled with greenish or brownish fluid, or a burn that becomes hot again or turns red;

· Any burn that doesn’t heal in ten days to two weeks.

“About 85 percent of burns are minor and can be treated at home, in a doctor’s office, or in a hospital’s emergency department,” says the Merck manual.

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