Most minor burns are superficial and do not cause complications. However, deep second-degree and third-degree burns swell and take more time to heal. In addition, deeper burns can cause scar tissue to form. This scar tissue shrinks (contracts) as it heals. If the scarring occurs at a joint, the resulting contracture may restrict movement. Thick, crusty surfaces (eschars) are produced by deep third-degree burns. Eschars can become too tight, cutting off blood supply to healthy tissues or impairing breathing if occurring near the throat. Burns can also cause emotional problems, such as depression, nightmares, or flashbacks from the traumatizing event. The loss of a friend or family member and possessions in a fire may add grief to the emotional strain of a burn.
A severe burn (third-degree) can be a seriously devastating injury, not only physically but emotionally. A severe burn can not only affect the burn victim, but the entire family. Individuals with severe burns may be left with a loss of certain physical abilities, disfigurement, loss of a limb, loss of mobility, scarring, and infection. In addition, severe burns are capable of penetrating deep skin layers, causing muscle or tissue damage that may affect every system of the body.
Severe burns can cause serious complications due to extensive fluid loss and tissue damage. Complications from severe burns may take hours to develop. The longer the complication is present, the more severe the problems it tends to cause. Young children and older adults tend to be more seriously affected by complications than other age groups.
Dehydration eventually develops in people with widespread burns, because fluid seeps from the blood to the burned tissues. Shock develops if dehydration is severe. Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body is not getting enough blood flow. Destruction of muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis) occurs in deep third-degree burns. The muscle tissue releases myoglobin, one of the muscle's proteins, into the blood due to muscle tissue breakdown. If present in high concentrations, myoglobin harms the kidneys. Rhabdomyolysis can be diagnosed from tests of the blood and urine.
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