Eli5: What happens and a molecular level when you get burned


For example, by fire/boiling water

In: Biology

The complex biological molecules in your body get deformed by heat. The protein chain needs to fold in a specific form to work, if it gets twisted or broken it cannot do its job. This causes your cells to break down and die.

The proteins in your body are like the buildings of a city.

Each one is a carefully constructed structure with a specific purpose related to its shape. Skyscrapers have to stand up against gravity to provide useful space — but the complex protein structures in your body hold their lattice structure up against their own molecular attraction themself. Buildings want to fall, proteins want to crumple.

The fast vibrating molecules in boiling water are like the waves in an earthquake. When they shake up the molecules in your skin, the protein buildings can collapse into a pile of rubble.

Proteins are carefully folded into their useful shapes just like the steel and glass of skyscrapers in a city. They’re fairly strong and stable, but there is a shape they can collapse into that’s even more stable if they’re vibrated around too much.

Sometimes when buildings are damaged, the water main leading to them gets exposed and flooding results. This is basically what causes blisters as serum seeps into the layers separating the upper and lower layers of damaged skin.

In order to rebuild a city that was destroyed by an earthquake, engineers have to excavate the rubble and sometime demolish buildings that were only partially brought down. This is like cellular apoptosis in damaged cells and the removal work is handled by lymphocytes.