Burns are one of the most common injuries affecting people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 265,000 deaths occur annually due to fires.
Burns are a significant concern in South Africa, accounting for 18% of hospital admissions and having a mortality rate of 6 to 10%. According to a South African survey, thermal injuries are the leading external cause of death in children under the age of four years and the third most common cause of injury fatalities among those under 18.
These statistics highlight the need for burn prevention strategies and increased risk awareness.
Classification Of Burns
Burns are categorised based on the severity and depth of the burn. The different categories of burns are first-degree burns, second-degree burns, third-degree burns, and fourth-degree burns.
According to Murray Hewlett, CEO the Affinity Health, the burn’s severity depends on the damage to the skin and the underlying tissues.
First-degree burns are the mildest form of burns and only affect the outer layer of the skin. These burns are defined by redness, swelling, and pain. They are usually caused by sunburn, a brief exposure to hot liquids, or a mild electrical shock.
You can treat most first-degree burns at home by cooling the burn, covering it with a non-stick bandage, taking pain medication, and protecting it from the sun. However, if the burn is substantial, affects an infant or older person, or if you think the burn is more severe, seek medical attention immediately.
Second-degree burns are more severe than first-degree burns and affect the outer and underlying layers of the skin. Blisters, severe pain, and redness characterise these burns. Scalds, hot liquids, flames, or electrical burns usually cause them.
To treat a minor, second-degree burn at home, gently wash the burn with cool water, pat it dry, and cover it with a clean bandage or wound dressing. Additionally, avoid touching the burn, take over-the-counter pain relievers if needed, and change the bandage at least once daily.
Third-degree burns can cause permanent damage to the skin, tissues, and bones. A white or black charred appearance, severe pain, and numbness distinguish these burns. Flames, chemicals, or electrical burns usually cause them.
Treatment for third-degree burns will depend on the severity of the burn (determined by the amount of body surface area that has been affected) but often requires professional medical attention.
Fourth-degree burns are the most severe type of burn injury and involve damage to all layers of the skin, as well as the underlying muscles, tendons, and bones. These burns are often the result of high-voltage electrical shocks, exposure to flames or extremely hot liquids, and prolonged contact with a heat source.
Fourth-degree burns are extremely dangerous and can cause significant tissue damage, nerve damage, and even amputation of the affected area.
Individuals with fourth-degree burns often require surgery, skin grafts, or even amputation to remove the damaged tissue. Even with proper treatment, the road to recovery from a fourth-degree burn can be long and complex, with many individuals requiring long-term physical therapy and support.
“Burns can cause significant physical and emotional damage to the individual,” adds Hewlett. “It is important to raise awareness of the different types of burns and educate people on how to prevent and treat them.”
How to Prevent Burns
Preventing burns is the best way to avoid the long-term physical and emotional impact they can have.
Affinity Health recommends taking precautions, such as installing smoke alarms, having a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket available in the kitchen, and having a fire escape plan.
- Hot water or liquids can cause severe burns, so take precautions. Adjusting the geyser temperature to 55°C can reduce the risk of burns.
- When cooking with oil, have a lid nearby to place over the oil if it ignites quickly. A wet cloth or baking powder can also help smother the flames (throwing water onto burning oil can spread the fire and cause an explosion).
- Overloading electrical circuits, especially extension cords, can lead to fires or electrocution. Supplying electricity to other properties or buildings using long extensions, especially if they cross streets, can also cause electrocution and fire.
- Never use electrical appliances with wet hands in the bathroom or pool, as water conducts electricity. Always unplug heat-producing appliances when not in use, especially irons and heaters.
- A heater must be at least 1 metre away from anything that may catch fire (clothing, furniture, or curtains).
Make Fire Safety A Family Affair
It is essential to teach children about fire safety and not leaving hot irons or other objects within reach. Teach children and caregivers that they should call 10177 or 112 on a cell phone for timely help in case of a fire situation.