How Does a Burn Affect the Skin?



Burns affect the skin by setting off immune responses within your body. Depending upon the severity of the burn, you might experience mild pain and redness to the affected area or on the other end of the spectrum, you could be rushed to a burn unit for specialized treatment. The problem with burns is that your tissue is damaged. It is the degree of damage that prompts a particular immune response.

Types of Burns

Burns are graded by levels. A first-degree burn has damaged the outer layer of skin (epidermis) while a second-degree burn damaged the epidermis and dermis (the next layer of skin). Third-degree burns are the most serious because multiple dermal layers have been burned away completely, exposing the tissue beneath. Most people think of fire as the source of burns, and most burn trauma does come from flames. However, there are other types of burns such as chemical, electrical, radioactive and thermal.

Immune Response

When you are burned, the trauma to your skin starts a chain of reactions within the body. The immune response is prompted, causing platelets and inflammatory cells to be sent to the affected area. These cells cause inflammation, swelling and redness. This process sets off more complicated chemical reactions that work to heal the trauma and stop further invasion of foreign particles or bacteria. At this time, macrophages and lymphocytes aid in the immune response. Especially in the case of second- or third-degree burns where the deeper skin tissue has been compromised, these immunity building cells are necessary. It is very difficult for your body to ward off the infections and symptoms of a major burn.

Burn Symptoms

First-degree burns are minor and typically can be treated at home. While these burns are moderately painful, they are not severe. Symptoms include redness, swelling and pain. Second-degree burns are more serious because in addition to the symptoms of a first-degree burn, blisters develop. This happens because the outer layer of skin, the epidermis, has been burned away. The blisters are quite painful and can lead to infection if not treated properly. In this case, medical attention is advised.

Severe Burns

Third-degree burns require immediate medical attention. The burn has gone through the skin and often to the bone. The chance of acute swelling, infection, shock and death are real depending on how much of the body is affected. Such severe burns greatly hinder the immune response.

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