Thermal Burns

Thermal burns of the skin occur when the temperature of the object touching or radiating to the skin exceeds the ability of the skin's vascular system to carry away the heat. This is made worse by pressure on the skin, which reduces circulation. The pressure effect is multiplied as the area and time of contract increase. Even temperatures as low as 45°C to 49°C (114°F to 120°F) have caused third degree burns of the skin (5,6). Burns are described by degree:

1. First degree burns involve only the superficial epidermis. The skin is dry, red, and may be hypersensitive.

2. Second degree burns destroy the epidermis and penetrate into the dermis. The skin is edematous, red, wet, and painful since nerve endings are involved. Blistering may occur. Second degree burns can be further classified by the depth into the dermis.

3. Third degree burns penetrate the dermis. The skin is pale, contracted, and leathery. Sensation is lost because the nerve endings are destroyed.

4. Fourth degree burns involve deeper structures such as muscle, bone or other tissue. Charred bone or muscle may be visible (7).

Burns are also described in terms of involved surface area. The body is divided into regions, each considered as a percentage of the body. In this system, the head is one region of 9%, each arm is 9% and each leg is 18% and the torso is 36%. There is an inverse relationship between percentage of the body burned and survival potential. However, modern burn units and aggressive care of burns have increased the survivability of serious burns (7,8).

Burns continue to be a significant cause of injury in agriculture. Hot engines and exhausts, heating devices for the livestock, hot liquids, and fires are but some of the causes. Children who live and/or work on the farm are particularly at risk because many devices are moving and children are attracted to them (9).

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