Most of us would like to avoid the topic of burns altogether, but learning about them can help mitigate their effects should an emergency occur. First responders deal with burn patients regularly. In many cases, a little more knowledge on the part of the victim or those surrounding them at the time of the burn could help improve outcomes. Based on input from paramedics, here are seven facts that everyone should know to help decrease the effects of burns.
#1 – Burns are not always caused by heat.
Did you know that burns can be caused by cold? Extremely cold substances such as ice can cause a burn. Exposure to snow or cold wind can also cause ice burn.
An ice burn looks like any other kind of burn. The skin cells have been damaged, and blood is no longer flowing to the burnt area. Ice burns might appear bright red, white, yellowish-gray, or waxy.
To prevent ice burn, ice and cold packs should not be applied directly to the skin but buffered with a towel or cloth. Avoid over-exposure to outdoor cold.
In addition to heat and cold, burns can be caused by chemicals, gases, friction, radiation, welding arcs, lasers, and electricity.
#2 – Some serious burns don’t hurt.
With serious burns, there may be no pain. It’s no miracle but a natural consequence of having nerve endings so impaired that pain signals can’t reach the brain. When all the nerve endings are too damaged to send signals to the brain, a deep burn may not cause any pain at all. Surface burns cause intense pain; a deep burn might be completely numb.
#3 – Burns over joints need special attention.
Burns over a joint should be taken more seriously than other burns. A burn over your wrist or elbow or knee may cause internal damage to the joint which is not obvious to the naked eye. You might not need to call 911, but any serious burn over a joint should be referred to a medical professional for further evaluation.
#4 – A lightning strike is an electrical burn.
In September 2021, three construction workers in Las Vegas were injured by a lightning strike while eating their lunch. Two were treated at the scene, but a third required hospitalization. The workers were sitting outside at a site on Lindell Road, between Summerlin and Las Vegas central. Lightning struck the ground five feet from where the workers were sitting.
Lightning strikes are classified as electrical burns. Electrical burns also occur when someone touches a live wire, inserts a finger into an electrical socket, or touches electrified water. Electricians and other construction workers are exposed to the risk of electrical burns. These workers receive industry-specific training about how to avoid and treat these burns.
Electrical burns may not be immediately apparent. They often cause small skin wounds at ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ points, but the main damage is internal. In addition to internal tissue damage, the heart rhythm may be affected by the surge of unexpected electricity. This surge of electricity may cause a casualty to suffer a heart attack or stop breathing.
When electricity enters a body, it doesn’t stay there. An electrical current enters the body at one location, surges through the body causing internal damage, and then exits. Electrical burns cause ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ wounds, both of which will need to be treated.
#5 – Certain kinds of burns should prompt a 911 call, even if the burn doesn’t look so bad.
Call 911 immediately if a victim has chemical burns, electrical burns, inhalation burns, eye burns, or a flash burn.
● Chemical burns: Chemical burns are caused by industrial chemicals such as sulfuric acid and battery acid. These burns can also be caused by pool chemicals, liquid gas, and cleaning supplies (bleach, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, etc.).
● Electrical burns: Electrical burns are caused by touching a live wire, inserting a finger or metal object into a wall socket, dropping a hair dryer in a bath, construction accidents involving wiring, and (less commonly) lightning strikes.
● Inhalation burns: Inhalation burns are caused when a victim breathes smoke or fumes. Inhalation burns occur in small spaces with chemicals, gas, or steam. Life-threatening breathing problems can first manifest up to 24 hours after initial exposure.
● Eye burns: Any burn to the eye, whether chemical or heat-related, warrants an immediate 911 call. Flush the eye with cool water until an ambulance arrives.
● Flash burns: Flash burns are caused by an intense flash of light, electrical current, or nuclear radiation. Victims of the WWII Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs experienced flash burns on exposed skin. Flash burns are common with welders, who experience these burns on the cornea if they are exposed to a sudden flash of ultraviolet (UV) light from a welding torch.
Chemical, electrical, inhalation, eye, and flash burns are an automatic 911 call. Other kinds of burns may also warrant a 911 call, depending on the burn’s severity.
#6 – Lukewarm water is better for cooling a burn than cold water.
Neither hot nor cold water is good for a burn. Rather, lukewarm water delays a burn progression while providing the best chance for skin tissue to survive the burn. Tepid water helps the blood in the wounded area keep circulating.
A burned area should be cooled with lukewarm water for at least 20 minutes. Chemical burns should be cooled for an hour.
#7 – Cover a burn with clear plastic wrap, not a bandage.
Clear plastic wrap helps a burn wound stay wet and retain important moisture. In addition, plastic wrap protects the exposed nerve endings, which may immediately reduce the pain. In a dusty, windy, or chaotic environment, covering a burn with clear plastic wrap will reduce the chance for infection.
Plastic wrap should be draped loosely over the wound. If no plastic wrap is available in a first aid situation, a plastic bag or zip-lock bag may be used. If no clear wrap can be found, a clean, non-fluffy cloth is the next best thing.
People who are generally healthy and who don’t have underlying medical conditions will heal more quickly from burns than victims who already have compromised health. Burns in infants and children under five years and in the elderly should be referred to a medical professional.
The Red Cross, CDC, and American Burn Association all offer more information on burns. If you have legal questions about receiving compensation after sustaining a burn in the greater Las Vegas area, contact an accident attorney to discuss your situation.