Proper Medical Treatment of Burns Critical To Positive Outcomes

First-degree burns, including sunburns, should not be taken lightly

DAYTON, Ohio (April 14, 2017) – A critical countdown begins the minute a person sustains a burn to their skin because the next 72 hours will ultimately decide its outcome. 

Travis Perry, MD, with Comprehensive Burn and Wound Specialists, said people often underestimate a burn’s ability to harm the body because they think that what they see at the moment is what they’ll get in the long-term.Science proves opposite: A burn can actually morph and deepen up to 72 hours after the initial incident.

“Individuals need to understand that immediate medical evaluation of a burn is critical because once a patient sustains a burn injury we are on a timeline,” Dr. Perry said. “How soon the burn process is stopped and how quickly a person gets specialized medical care determines the physiological, functional and cosmetic outcomes of the injury.”

The degree of a burn is diagnosed through the clinical exam done by a specialist, and is often determined by the level of skin that is involved. First degree burns are superficial burns that only involve the top layer of skin. Second degree burns involve the dermis –the thick layer of living tissue below the epidermis that forms the true skin, which involves blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands and other structures.

Third degree burns involve thefatty tissue underneath the epidermis, and fourth degree burns involve thedeeper structures including tendons, muscle and bone. Diagnosis of a burn is aprocess that involves observation up to 72 hours after the incident hasoccurred.

“Patients may come in with whatappears to be a superficial, second degree burn, but because of the naturalprogression of a burn injury, microscopically it could end up being a thirddegree burn with a 72-hour time-frame,” said Dr. Perry, who practices withPremier Physician Network.

Flame burns and scald burns arethe two most commonly seen. Flame burns are common in young adults, especiallyyoung males who tend to be engaged in risky activity. Scald burns are commonamong the young children and older adults. Children’s burns are caused byimmature judgement while older adults may experience burns from accidents as aresult of other medical issues such as a cardiac event, Dr. Perry said.

Dr. Perry said knowledge iscritical when it comes to properly treating a burn:

  • Know the look – There are specific characteristics of burns that should always be evaluated by a specialist. Any burn that is larger than a quarter, forms blisters, is dry or tender to the touch, is firm or is surrounded by a large ring of redness needs medical attention. Such characteristics signal the burn is equal to a second-degree burn. 
  • Seekadvice when in doubt –Those who think they are in the clear because their burn has not penetrated the first layer of skin shouldn’t be so quick to relax. It is possible for some first-degree burns – such as a bad sunburn – to convert to second degree burns.  
  • It’s a race against time –Seeking medical attention for burns as fast as possible is extremely important. Burns that convert to the second-degree stage or beyond are more susceptible to infection. A person has 72 hours in which to seek medical attention for a burn in order to obtain the best outcomes of care. 
  • Wives’tales are harmful –There are misconceptions about how to treat burns that can actually do significant harm. Applying grease and butter to a burn, for instance, can expose the skin to bacteria and infection. And the idea that placing the burn in cold or freezing water will stop the pain and progress actually do the exact opposite. 

“Submerging a burn into ice wateractually causes the burn to go much deeper into the skin while causing thesmall blood vessels that supply that skin to clot off,” Dr. Perry said. “Theskin no longer receives the nutrients, oxygen and blood supply that is needsand ultimately dies off. I can still remember when I was a kid one of thebeliefs was that it was good to let a burn ‘air out.’ However, a burn needs theright amount of moisture and humidification to heal. Drying it out impedes thehealing process.”

For more information on burns or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit our Burn and Wound page

Contact Us

Discover more about Premier Health and join us in building healthier communities in Southwest Ohio. Learn more about working at Premier Health, becoming a volunteer, and making a gift to support our mission.