Burns

Injuries to tissues caused by contact with heat, steam, chemicals, electricity, or the like.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Burns

A burn is tissue damage caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight or nuclear radiation. The most common burns are those caused by scalds, building fires and flammable liquids and gases.

  • First-degree burns affect only the outer layer (the epidermis) of the skin.
  • Second-degree burns damage the epidermis and the layer beneath it (the dermis).
  • Third-degree burns involve damage or complete destruction of the skin to its full depth and damage to underlying tissues.

How does the body react to a severe burn?

The swelling and blistering characteristic of burns is caused by the loss of fluid from damaged blood vessels. In severe cases, such fluid loss can cause shock. Burns often lead to infection, due to damage to the skin's protective barrier...Read more about Burns
NIH - National Institute of General Medical Sciences

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) for treating partial‐thickness burns

Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) is the application of negative pressure (a vacuum) across a wound with the aim of managing the wounds and promoting healing. Alternative names for NPWT include topical negative pressure (TNP) therapy, vacuum‐assisted closure (VAC) and sealed surface wound suction. In the case of burns, NPWT is used to help the drainage of excess fluid and increase localised blood flow. It has been suggested that the action of NPWT may result in the burn being supplied with increased oxygen and nutrition which could promote healing.We could identify only one clinical trial that tried to address whether NPWT is effective in treating partial‐thickness burns, and its results have not yet been published in full. Consequently, there is a lack of trial evidence available, and we could not determine whether NPWT is effective in treating partial‐thickness burns. Much more research needs to be done in this area to find out whether NPWT is helpful.

Dressings for treating superficial and partial thickness burns

Superficial burns are those which involve the epidermal skin layer and partial thickness burns involve deeper damage to structures such as blood vessels and nerves. There are many dressing materials available to treat these burns but none has strong evidence to support their use. Evidence from poor quality, small trials, suggests that superficial and partial thickness burns heal more quickly with silicon‐coated nylon, silver containing dressings and biosynthetic dressings than with silver sulphadiazine cream. Burns treated with hydrogel dressings healed more quickly than those treated with usual care.

Insufficient evidence so far to support the community approach to burns and scalds prevention

Multi‐strategy, community‐based interventions are widely promoted for reducing injury rates. The efficacy of this approach is difficult to assess and there have been few research studies of good quality. The current review sought to review studies evaluating the success of community‐based programmes specifically intended to reduce burn and scald injury in children. Only four studies were identified that met the inclusion criteria and two of these found a reduction in rates of burns and scalding. More high‐quality research studies are needed in this area, therefore, to support the continued use of the community approach.

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Summaries for consumers

Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) for treating partial‐thickness burns

Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) is the application of negative pressure (a vacuum) across a wound with the aim of managing the wounds and promoting healing. Alternative names for NPWT include topical negative pressure (TNP) therapy, vacuum‐assisted closure (VAC) and sealed surface wound suction. In the case of burns, NPWT is used to help the drainage of excess fluid and increase localised blood flow. It has been suggested that the action of NPWT may result in the burn being supplied with increased oxygen and nutrition which could promote healing.We could identify only one clinical trial that tried to address whether NPWT is effective in treating partial‐thickness burns, and its results have not yet been published in full. Consequently, there is a lack of trial evidence available, and we could not determine whether NPWT is effective in treating partial‐thickness burns. Much more research needs to be done in this area to find out whether NPWT is helpful.

Dressings for treating superficial and partial thickness burns

Superficial burns are those which involve the epidermal skin layer and partial thickness burns involve deeper damage to structures such as blood vessels and nerves. There are many dressing materials available to treat these burns but none has strong evidence to support their use. Evidence from poor quality, small trials, suggests that superficial and partial thickness burns heal more quickly with silicon‐coated nylon, silver containing dressings and biosynthetic dressings than with silver sulphadiazine cream. Burns treated with hydrogel dressings healed more quickly than those treated with usual care.

Insufficient evidence so far to support the community approach to burns and scalds prevention

Multi‐strategy, community‐based interventions are widely promoted for reducing injury rates. The efficacy of this approach is difficult to assess and there have been few research studies of good quality. The current review sought to review studies evaluating the success of community‐based programmes specifically intended to reduce burn and scald injury in children. Only four studies were identified that met the inclusion criteria and two of these found a reduction in rates of burns and scalding. More high‐quality research studies are needed in this area, therefore, to support the continued use of the community approach.

See all (51)

Terms to know

First-Degree Burn (Superficial Burn)
A burn that only affects the outer layer of skin causing pain, redness, and swelling.
Psychological Trauma
An event that causes great distress; an emotional wound leading to psychological injury.
Scars
A mark left (usually on the skin) by the healing of injured tissue.
Second-Degree Burn (Partial Thickness Burn)
A partial thickness burn that affects both the outer and underlying layer of skin causing pain, redness, swelling and blistering.
Skin Grafting
Skin grafting is a type of graft surgery involving the transplantation of skin. The transplanted tissue is called a skin graft.
Third-Degree Burn (Full Thickness Burn)
A full thickness burn that extends into deeper tissues causing white or blackened and charred skin that may be numb.
Tissue
A group of cells that act together to carry out a specific function in the body. Examples include muscle tissue, nervous system tissue (including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves), and connective tissue (including ligaments, tendons, bones, and fat). Organs are made up of tissues.

More about Burns

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Other terms to know: See all 7
First-Degree Burn (Superficial Burn), Psychological Trauma, Scars

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