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Burns Overview

What are burns?

Burns are a type of injury caused by heat. The heat can be thermal, electrical, chemical, or electromagnetic energy. Most burn accidents occur at home. About 75 percent of all burn injuries in children are preventable.

Smoking and open flame are the leading causes of burn injury for older adults, while scalding is the leading cause of burn injury for children. Both infants and the elderly are at the greatest risk for burn injury.

What are the different types of burns?

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

  • Thermal burns. Burns due to external heat sources which raise the temperature of the skin and tissues and cause tissue cell death or 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, or to other sources of radiation such as X-ray.

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

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 5/21/2013
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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