Burns, Bites & Stings

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What are burns?

Burns are skin damage caused by contact with fire, heat, electricity, radiation, or caustic chemicals.Burns are classified according to the depth and extent of the skin damage.

There are four levels of burns (depending on how many layers of skin and tissue are burned):

  • First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin. They cause pain, redness, and swelling.

  • Second-degree (partial thickness) burns affect both the outer and underlying layer of skin. They cause pain, redness, swelling, and blistering.

  • Third-degree (full thickness) burns extend into deeper tissues. They cause white or blackened, charred skin that may be numb. Damage to skin nerves can mean it is quite painless. The burned skin lacks sensation to touch. A skin graft is usually necessary for significant areas.

  • Fourth-degree burns extend through the skin to injure muscle, ligaments, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and bones. These burns always require medical treatment.

What causes burns?

  • Heat burns (thermal burns) are caused by fire, steam, hot objects, or hot liquids

  • Scald burns with hot liquid are the most common burns to children and older adults.

  • Electrical burns are caused by contact with electrical sources or by lightning.

  • Chemical burns are caused by contact with household or industrial chemicals in a liquid, solid, or gas form.

  • Radiation burns are caused by the sun, tanning booths, sunlamps, X-rays, or radiation therapy for cancer treatment.

  • Friction burns are caused by contact with any hard surface such as roads ("road rash"), carpets, or gym floor surfaces. They are usually both a scrape (abrasion) and a heat burn.

  • Inhalation injuries – Breathing in hot air or gases can injure your lungs. Breathing in toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide can cause poisoning.


Common treatments

Most burns can be treated at home using cold running water or healing and soothing oinments or analgesics that help to combat infection.More serious burns require medical attention.The seriousness of a burn is determined by several factors, including the age and health of the burn victim as well as depth, size, cause and the area of the body affected.


What are bites?

Humans can suffer pain and injury after being bitten by animals, reptiles, spiders and other humans.A stinging, slightly smarting pain is often felt at the site of the bite. The pain can sometimes be burning and violent.In some cases, there's no immediate pain, but instead it comes on after 30 to 60 minutes. Blistering, bleeding under the skin and a convulsive sensation in the muscles may be felt. Later, local tissue death may occur, but this depends on the venom concerned.General symptoms such as anxiety, a sensation of weakness, sweating, headache, dizziness, swelling around the eyes, skin rash, respiratory distress, nausea, salivation and vomiting are all possible.Difficulty in maintaining muscle control and convulsions, which in the worst case can affect the muscles involved in swallowing and breathing.In severe cases allergic reactions can cause circulatory failure, shock and death.


What causes bites?

Bites can be caused by animals, reptiles, spiders and humans.Animal and human bites may cause puncture wounds, cuts, scrapes, or crushing injuries. Most animal bites occur in school-age children. The face, hands, arms, and legs are the most common sites for animal bites.


Reptile bites

Australia is home to many of the most poisonous snakes in the world.In Australia there are about 3000 snakebites each year, of which 200 to 500 receive antivenom. On average one or two of these will prove fatal.The bite site is usually painless. Only 1 in 20 snake bites require active emergency treatment or the administration of antivenom. Since the physical appearance of snakes may differ, there is often no practical way to identify a species and professional medical attention should be sought.


Spider bites

Almost all spiders are venomous.Most spiders are too small, or their venom too weak, to be dangerous to humans.Most spiders are relatively harmless to humans. Australia has about 2000 species of spiders. First aid for a venomous spider bite depends on the species of spider. If in doubt, always seek medical attention.


Common treatments

Most animal, human and spider bites cause minor injuries.Home treatment is usually all that is needed to care for the wound.For minor bites rest and elevation, local application of ice packs and lotions, simple analgesics and antihistamines are all that is required.In some patients, anaphylactic reactions may occur and these may be life threatening.There's antiserum for several spider venoms, and this treatment must be overseen by a doctor.Medical management depends on the degree of systemic envenomation and the type of venom.Snake bite victims should also seek urgent medical treatment.


What are stings?

Humans can experience painful stings from bees, wasps, ants and other arthropods.These bites, no matter how painful, are only potentially lethal in patients with allergy to the venom of the insect concerned.In these patients, a bite should be considered a medical emergency. 


What causes stings?

When you are stung by an insect, poisons and other toxins enter your skin .It is normal to have some swelling, redness, pain, and itching around the sting. But you may have an allergic reaction if your immune system reacts strongly to allergens in the sting.A few types of stinging insects cause most allergic reactions, including bees, wasps, hornets and fire ants.Allergic reaction can range from mild to severe.Bee and wasp stings are more likely to cause allergic reactions than other kinds of insect bites.


Common treatments

Treatment for insect sting allergies depends on how bad your reaction is.In most cases, you can treat mild allergic reactions with home care. Ice packs are often effective to relieve pain, swelling, and itching.If severe, antihistamines, oral analgesics, and even steroids may be required.Most people don't need epinephrine or allergy shots for these mild allergic reactions.A severe reaction (anaphylaxis) can be deadly and needs emergency care.You should call your doctor immediately if an allergic reaction occurs when your immune system reacts strongly to the allergens in the sting.Bee stings should be scraped off, rather than pulled out, to prevent the poison from spreading under the skin.If necessary, use a painkilling cream or gel or an antihistamine to soothe the itch.People who are allergic to insect bites should carry a card, bracelet or necklace that lets other people know about their allergy.

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