No wounds are pleasant, but some are distinctly worse than others. Burns, which develop when heat, chemicals, electricity, or radiation damage the skin, are especially painful injuries. More than 2 million burn injuries occur every year in America, with 75,000 requiring hospitalization and 14,000 leading to death.
Whether you experience a superficial first-degree burn or an extreme third- or fourth-degree burn, proper burn wound care and rapid treatment are necessary to heal your skin and protect your body from dangerous complications.
Why Does the Skin Burn?
When the skin is exposed to extreme heat, radiation, chemical contact, or electricity, it suffers tissue damage and death in the form of a burn.
As the body’s largest and outermost organ, the skin is responsible for regulating body temperature, preventing the loss of bodily fluids, and blocking the bacteria that trigger infection. Any burn wound that causes damage to skin tissue could potentially leave the body vulnerable to a wide range of health complications and risks.
The Common Causes of Burn Wounds
Most people associate burns with touching a hot oven dish or curling iron, but there are many different causes of burn wounds on the skin.
Thermal burns, the most recognized type of burn wounds, are caused by the extreme heat of hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, or flames. The external heat source immediately raises the temperature of the skin tissue, causing cell charring and even cell death.
Chemical burns, on the other hand, don’t relate to heat. These burns are sustained when the skin comes into contact with strong acids, solvents, detergents, and other chemical-based substances. Even standard household items like cleaners and cosmetics can cause chemical burns if used improperly.
Electrical burns aren’t as common as thermal and chemical burns, but they can be very severe. If the body comes into contact with an electrical current, the force of the electricity injures the skin and causes a burn to form. Depending on the amount of electricity that enters your body, an electrical burn may be superficial or extend through all layers of skin.
Prolonged exposure to harmful radiation waves, including ultraviolet sun rays, x-rays, and radiation cancer therapy, can trigger burn wounds on the body. Most radiation burns in the United States occur as a result of cancer treatments that use potent radiation or radioactive substances to kill cancerous cells.
Severity of Burns
Burns range in severity based upon the strength of the burn trigger and the length of time it contacts the skin. All burns should be taken seriously, but second- and third-degree burns pose the most severe threats to the body.
A first-degree burn is the least intense type of burn because it only affects the outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis. You’ll feel the pain of a first-degree burn and notice redness, tenderness, and pain along the injured area, but most first-degree burns heal on their own within a week.
If you have diabetes, a weak immune system, poor circulation, or any other risk factor for slow-healing wounds, it’s possible that even a first-degree burn becomes vulnerable to infection if not treated properly.
A second-degree burn causes injury to the first two levels of skin, the epidermis and the dermis. Unlike a first-degree burn, which may not be very noticeable, a second-degree burn will create very painful burns and blisters that look soft, moist, and pink. Fluid might ooze from the skin of a second-degree burn, and it’s common for scars to develop after the burn heals.
Third-degree burns are extremely aggressive. They damage the epidermis, dermis, and the third layer of skin called the hypodermis. As a result, third-degree burns damage the full thickness of skin, including fat, nerves, and possibly muscles and bones. Skin that suffers third-degree burning may look black, brown, white, or leathery.
Contrary to what you might assume, third-degree burns sometimes hurt less than second-degree burns since third-degree burns cause severe damage to nerve endings and the surrounding tissue. If you sustain a third-degree burn, you may not be able to feel the true extent of damage your body has endured.
Healing from a third-degree burn occurs very slowly, even for people in optimal health. If you have a condition or risk factor that interferes with your body’s natural healing process, slow-healing third-degree burns could threaten your life without proper treatment like skin grafting and HBOT.
What Happens If Burn Wounds Don’t Heal Properly?
All burns, no matter how minor or severe, carry the risk of infections since bacteria can easily enter broken skin and begin to breed. If your burn wounds, especially second- and third-degree burns, don’t heal properly, your skin will remain vulnerable to harmful bacteria.
Slow- or non-healing wounds that fail to show improvement after 30 days are considered chronic wounds. If your burn wound transforms into a chronic wound, your body will start to undergo an explosive inflammatory response that puts you at serious risk of the following complications:
- Fluid loss that causes a sharp drop in blood pressure (shock)
- Fluid trapped in the body that causes swelling (edema)
- Organ damage and failure from oxygen deficiency
- Weakened immune system
- Potentially lethal infection that travels into the lungs and bloodstream
Burns cause such a domino effect on your health that seeking the most effective treatment for healing must be your first priority.
Steps to Improve Burn Wound Healing
Before, during, and after your treatments from a burn wound care specialist, make sure you take the following precautions in your day-to-day life.
Proper Burn Wound Care
It’s essential that you look after your burn just like you would a fledgling plant or sick pet — with constant care, attention, and purpose. Basic burn wound care steps include rinsing it with cool water and mild soap, patting dry the affected area, applying antibiotic ointment and moisturizer, and wrapping the burn in sterile gauze to avoid further agitation.
If you suffer a more severe second-degree burn, your wound care specialist may recommend the use of hydrogel dressings to soothe your pain and keep burns and blisters fully moisturized. It’s a careful balance that requires your burn to remain moist without becoming dry or too saturated.
Eat More Protein
This might be surprising, but eating more protein is a very important part of the burn recovery process. Your body will harness every bit of energy it can find to sustain the burn-healing process. It’s a calorie-intensive repair process, so if you don’t eat enough protein and healthy fats, you’ll disrupt the healing process and find yourself feeling completely exhausted.
It’s all too easy for tissue damaged by a burn wound to dry out, crack, and create a brand new open wound. Since open wounds can quickly become infected with bacteria, it’s essential to apply the right type of non-perfumed water-based moisturizer or cream on your burn every day. If you’re not sure about the best moisturizer for your unique burn care needs, talk to your wound care specialist for a recommendation.
Enhance Burn Wound Care With Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
In addition to any skin grafting or other external treatments your burn wound requires, you can also use hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to enhance your burn wound care. HBOT is one of the only treatments available to improve your body’s internal reactions to burn wounds.
Increase Concentration of Oxygen
When HBOT is given within the first three days of a burn wound, it increases oxygen saturation within the body until it’s 12 times more than the oxygen obtained by breathing normal air. This additional oxygen can even bring tissue back to life that might otherwise die from the burn injury.
HBOT is equally valuable even a long time after a burn injury is sustained. Using a special hyperbaric chamber, this therapy helps oxygen dissolve directly into all of the body’s fluids so that it can thoroughly permeate areas where circulation has become reduced or blocked.
This supports the body’s own healing process by strengthening the action of white and red blood cells. When white blood cells receive enough oxygen, they can effectively kill bacteria, reduce swelling, and allow the rapid reproduction of new blood vessels.
Boost Collagen Synthesis
The increased oxygen saturation created through HBOT also boosts collagen synthesis in the body. With sufficient levels of oxygen, tissues within the body are able to strengthen into firm cross-links to produce the new collagen required for healing wounds. As the connective tissue that is responsible for closing and repairing open wounds, collagen is absolutely necessary to any burn wound healing process.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of the type or degree of your burn, proper wound care treatment is essential to achieving a full recovery. Thanks to innovative treatments like HBOT, you don’t need to wait months or years for your burn to finally heal or accept your vulnerability to infection.
When you turn to a trusted clinic like R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics, you can enjoy personalized HBOT treatments in a serene and comfortable setting. The burn wound care experts at R3 will help you develop a treatment system designed to accelerate your healing process and enhance the health of your injured skin.
Learn more now to find out exactly why HBOT is the treatment your body needs to overcome your painful and unsightly burn wound.
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2. Radiation Burns. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. https://www.cancercenter.com/integrative-care/radiation-burns
3. Burns. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/pages/Factsheet_Burns.aspx
4. Care for Burn Wounds 101: From Minor to Major Burn Injuries. Advanced Tissue, January 20, 2015. https://advancedtissue.com/2015/01/care-burn-wounds-101-minor-major-burn-injuries/
5. The Effect of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy on a Burn Wound Model in Human Volunteers. Plast Reconstr Surg. 1997 May;99(6):1620-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9145132
6. Boykin, J. V., & Baylis, C. (2007). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Mediates Increased Nitric Oxide Production Associated with Wound Healing: A Preliminary Study. Advances in Skin & Wound Care, 20(7), 382-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756815/
Jaimi Stockstill is a nurse practitioner with experience caring for critically ill, cardiac cath lab, post-operative, psychiatric, and wound care patients. Jaimi received her Master’s of Science in Nursing from The University of Texas at Arlington. She currently manages wound care and hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the patients at R3.