Outdoor grilling weather is when a lot of burns happen, but it’s a year-round danger. From a medical perspective, not all burns are the result of heat. Fire, hot surfaces, even too-hot water can cause skin burns, but caustic chemicals, radiation, friction, and other things can cause the same reaction in the body. Burns, regardless of cause, are classified into degrees:
- First-degree burns are the least serious, though they may still require medical attention. These burns affect the outermost layer of the skin. The affected area is red, dry, and painful, but without blisters, and the burn generally heals in a week or two.
- Second-degree burns penetrate deeper into the skin. These are subdivided into superficial and deep—superficial second-degree burns are actually more painful than the deep kind, but they heal faster in less than three weeks as opposed to the months deep second-degree burns can last, and don’t typically leave scars, unlike their deep counterparts. Superficial second-degree burns are red and moist with some blistering, deep second-degree burns are yellow or white and don’t always result in blisters.
- Third-degree burns go all the way through the skin, and require emergency treatment. These burns are painless, not because they aren’t serious, but because the damage is so great that the nerves that register pain are unable to do so. Skin will be leathery and look white and waxy, or else charred, and may smell like it is roasted. Third-degree burns are not expected to completely heal, even after months; treatment usually requires cutting out the affected area and replacing it using skin grafts.
- Particularly deep burns, which not only go through all layers of skin but can go down to the bone, are sometimes referred to as fourth-degree burns. These burns cause so much damage that the burnt area may need to be amputated, and will always be significantly impaired.
While the worst burns call for medical attention, first- and sometimes even second-degree burns can be treated at home. Clothing that is stuck to the burn should not be removed, but otherwise it should be uncovered, and if it is a chemical burn, clothing with the chemical should be removed entirely. The burned skin should be held under cool running water—not ice—for about ten minutes; if this is not possible, cool damp clothe should be applied to the area.
In addition to healing the burn, it is important to prevent infection. Materials scientists have recently developed a microscopically thin material, called a nanosheet, that can cover wounds without adhesives, conforming to the skin to keep out bacteria.