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Burns Overview

What are burns?  

Burns are a type of injury caused by injury to the skin from excessive heat or another injury. The heat can be the result of thermal, electrical, chemical, or electromagnetic energy. Most burn accidents happen at home. About 75% of all burn injuries in children are preventable.

Smoking and open flame are the leading causes of burn injury for older adults. Scalding is the leading cause of burn injury for young children. Both infants and older adults are at the greatest risk for burn injury.

What are the different types of burns?

A burn injury often results from an energy transfer to the body. There are many types of burns caused by thermal, radiation, chemical, or electrical contact, or friction:

  • Thermal burns. Burns due to external heat sources that raise the temperature of the skin and tissues. These burns also cause tissue cell death or black charring. Hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, and flames, when coming in contact with the skin, can cause thermal burns.

  • Radiation burns. Burns caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun. Also caused by exposure to other sources of radiation such as therapeutic cancer treatments or nuclear power plant leaks.

  • Chemical burns. Burns caused by strong acids, alkalis, detergents, or solvents coming into contact with the skin or eyes.

  • Electrical burns. Burns from electrical current, either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).

  • Friction burns. Burns from direct damage to the cells and from the heat generated by friction. Examples include children falling on or touching a treadmill in motion. Or a rope burn from a rope sliding through the hands.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2018
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