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Burns are a common cause of emergency room visits in the United States, in children under the age of 5. Henceforth, it is important for all parents to identify the most common types of burns, the risk factors and the first steps in management.

For a child, getting burned could be quite a terrifying experience. Be it at home, at school or in the setting of an outdoor outing (or any social event), a child being burned gets everyone around on their toes and on the alert. And this is even more terrifying for the parents when they do not know what the first thing to do is. The behavior you adopt depends on the type of burns your child has suffered, and for the least serious ones, care can and should be provided at home and there will be no need to rush to the emergency room.

Burns can be classified based on the nature of the agent that caused the burn, or alternatively based on their severity.

Classification Based on the Nature of the Burning Agent

In this category, burns can be thermal, electrical, chemical or radiation induced.

Thermal burns are probably the most common type of burns in the United States. And in most of the cases, they result from house fires, smoking and heating devices. Scalding (and scald injuries) also enter in this category, but result from exposure to hot liquids, gases, high temperature water in bathtubs and during showers. This specific type of burns is more common in children under the age of 5. Fireworks also fit in this list, as a prevalent cause of burns in adolescent males in developed countries.

Electrical burns are caused by contact with electrical cords (in 60% of cases) or electrical outlets. They could be either low voltage (lower than 1000 volts) or high voltage (greater than 1000 volts). In high voltage burns, the damage is most likely internal, and sometimes they cause more consequences than just topical burns (such as cardiac arrhythmias) that we should definitely watch out for. Lightning is also another type of electrical buns, and people who are involved in activities such as mountain climbing or field sports (especially during rainy days) are the most at risk.

Chemical burns can be caused by a wide variety of chemical substances which are either a strong acid or a strong base. Direct contact with the substance could be either topical or via ingestion.

The most commonly identified chemical products responsible of burns are sulfuric acid (active ingredient in toilet cleaners) or hypochloric acid (active ingredient in bleach).

This type of burns is not very common, as children are not routinely exsposed to such household products. However, to increase the incidence of chemical burns, parents need to pay special attention to adequate storage of cleaning products in the household.

Radiation burns are caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light or ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is encountered in radiation therapy (for cancer treatment for instance) and in medical imaging techniques such as X-rays. Rarely, radioactive blasts (such as in bombings or terrorist attacks) are a source of exposure to ionizing radiation. Ultraviolet light comes directly from the sun, and therefore people who are keen of beach tanning (or even tanning booths) are at higher risks for this type of burns, just like prolonged summer outdoor activity.

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