Damage to the skin adversely affects skin's functions and places the individual at risk. Thermal injuries, commonly referred to as “burns”, catastrophically compromise the integrity and protective function of the skin. Extensive burns can therefore represent one of the most life-threatening and life-altering events an individual is ever likely to face and place enormous demands on healthcare services. The majority of burns are thought to be small, though, as many of these injuries are never reported to medical practitioners, meaning that there is little data to support this belief (Hermans, 2005). However, even in limited burns injuries the compromised status of the skin's integrity can provide a portal for bacterial ingress, pain and resulting disfigurement and scarring (Rockwell et al, 1989).
The severity of the actual burn injury is dependent on two factors: the size of the injury and the depth of tissue damaged by the heat source. Other events and health factors also need to be taken into account when estimating the severity of the injury on the individual's constitution, such as inhalation injury (from smoke and hot gases inhaled at the time of trauma), associated trauma injuries, such as limb fractures sustained trying to flee from the event and underlying medical conditions.
Types of burns
Burns can be caused in a number of different ways:
- Direct contact with a hot object (contact)
- Contact with a flame or superheated gas (flame)
- Contact with a hot liquid (scald)
- From the passage of a high-voltage electrical current through tissues
- Through exposure to chemicals
- From exposure to a source of radiation
Download full Burns clinical review article (89 KB pdf).