Pain management for burns can be difficult, because burns differ in type and severity. There are three types of burns:
- First-degree burns are considered mild compared to other burns. They result in pain and reddening of the epidermis (outer layer of the skin).
- Second-degree burns (partial thickness burns) affect the epidermis and the dermis (lower layer of skin). They cause pain, redness, swelling, and blistering.
- Third-degree burns (full thickness burns) go through the dermis and affect deeper tissues. They result in white or blackened, charred skin that may be numb.
What Causes Burns?
Dry heat (such as fire), wet heat (such as steam or hot liquids), radiation, friction, heated objects, the sun, electricity, or chemicals can all cause burns. Thermal burns are the most common kind of burns. These burns occur when flames, hot metals, scalding liquids, or steam come in contact with skin as a result of many different circumstances, including house fires, vehicle accidents, kitchen accidents, and electrical malfunctions.
What Are the Symptoms of Burns?
The symptoms of burns depend on the cause and type of burn. They can include:
- Pain (The degree of pain is not related to the severity of the burn, as the most serious burns can be painless.)
- Peeling skin
- Red skin
- Shock (Symptoms of shock may include pale and clammy skin, weakness, bluish lips and fingernails, and a drop in alertness.)
- White or charred skin
Treatment of Burns
Burn treatment depends on the type of burn. First-degree burns usually are treated with skin care products like aloe vera cream or an antibiotic ointment and pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Second-degree burns may be treated with an antibiotic cream or other creams or ointments prescribed by a doctor.
The treatment of third-degree burns may require the process of skin grafting or the use of synthetic skin. Severe burns covering large parts of the body may need more intensive treatments such as intravenous (IV) antibiotics to prevent infection or IV fluids to replace fluids lost when skin was burned.
Managing Burn Pain
Burn pain can be one of the most intense and prolonged types of pain. Burn pain is difficult to control because of its unique characteristics, its changing patterns, and its various components. In addition, there is pain involved in the treatment of burns, as the wounds must be cleansed and the dressings changed. Studies show that aggressive treatments for pain are needed with severe burns.