How do burns cause near-instant death?


Apologies for the grim and gross question, but I’m curious!

I was cooking some pasta earlier when I turned off the heat and drained the water off in the sink. As I turn back, I see a bug crawling on the cupboard above the range for a moment and then fall all the way onto the stovetop. It wriggled helplessly on its back for a few moments and then went completely still, seemingly dead within five seconds.

I know that living things can be consumed by fire and burn to a crisp, and I also know that serious burns can have long-term dangers due to things like nerves/muscles being damaged and a weakening of the immune system. But when actual fire isn’t involved and death still happens quickly, what’s happening to the body that can cause a quick death due to a burn?

In: 0

I have had some terrible burns and scars from them. Basically, your body is going to act on your behalf (it’s extremely smart) It will begin shutting down processes that are not deemed vital at that particular time in that particular moment in order to keep you from experiencing the intense pain of a possible extreme burn. Since your skin is your largest organ and your first protection it will receive the highest amount of damage – this is extremely painful and again your body will act on your behalf and shut you down so in order to protect the most vital of functions, your brain. Slowly, however, depending on the person and pain threshold they currently know, the body will not allow you to experience more than the brain can handle and will begin lowering BP, Heart Rate etc to keep you sedated which will eventually lead to death –

When any part of a body gets too hot it is effectively “cooked”. Perhaps it’s not the same level of “cooking” as you’d use for food, but proteins undergo chemical changes which make stop performing the functions necessary for a cell to operate. This happens at only a few degrees above normal body temperature, for example a fever of 105 F is very serious as this is close to the point of major cell damage caused by overheating.

For a small organism like an insect, it is very quickly “cooked” throughout its body and basically all body functions stop working.

For a larger organism it could be much slower, a burn may damage a vital organ (the skin is the obvious part often subject to burns) and the body can’t survive without it. Severely damaged skin for example can’t control temperature or the entrance/exit of moisture and can’t prevent the entrance of bacteria so a large area of skin being severely damaged is a huge problem for the rest of the body.

In a situation like what you are describing, where there is enough heat to render you dead within a few seconds, there are a few things that will be causing this. First is a process called denaturing, whereby the heat causes the proteins in your cells change shape, causing them to lose their ability to function. Rapid and widespread denaturing of all of your proteins in your body within a matter of seconds effectively shuts down all of your biochemistry chemistry across your entire body. Shortly after this comes a second phenomenon, where your cells do become lysed, which is to say they all burst open. This happens to enough cells quickly enough that the entire body simply shuts down.