According to the American Burn Association, approximately 486,000 individuals with burn injuries receive medical treatment every year. Unfortunately, about 40,000 of those victims suffer burn injuries so severe that they require hospitalization, and 30,000 of these victims are admitted to hospital burn centers. While the survival rate for burn injury victims is an impressive 96.8 percent, survivors are often left with severe physical scars, emotional issues, disfigurement and sometimes lifelong disabilities.
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The Severity of Burn Injuries
While not all burn injuries result in hospitalization, even those that seem less significant can result in health complications in the future. Burns range in severity from first degree burns, which are less severe, to fourth degree burns, which are extremely serious.
- First Degree Burns: First degree burns only cause damage to the outer layer of the victim’s skin. Characteristics of a first degree burn include redness, but no blisters are apparent. While first degree burns are typically painful to the touch, they can usually be treated at home with over the counter medication, and can be expected to heal within just a few days to a week (for otherwise healthy individuals).
- Second Degree Burns: Damage to several layers of skin, redness and blistering can be expected with second degree burns. Since second degree burns are a bit more serious than first degree burns, they are usually more painful and can take longer to heal. Victims can reduce the chances for scarring and infection by making sure these burns are properly treated.
- Third Degree Burns: When burn damages extend to all layers of the skin at the wound site, injuries are categorized as third degree burns. Third degree burns are substantially more severe that those with lesser damages, and can result in the skin turning black or white. In severe cases, nerve damage may be experienced as well. These burns require medical treatment, and can even require skin grafting. Without professional treatment, third degree burns can lead to serious health complications including infections, significant scarring and even loss of use or amputation.
- Fourth Degree Burns: The most serious burn injuries are referred to as fourth degree burns. They cause significant damage to the skin, but also result in injuries to bone and/or damage to underlying tissues as well. This type of injury is at an even higher risk of causing serious health complications- even when treated by medical professionals. Many fourth degree burns result in permanent and severe scarring, local and generalized infections, possible organ damage and respiratory problems, disfigurement, amputation and even death.
In order to minimize the effects of a burn injury, proper treatment is key. Even with proper treatment and minimal physical damage, however, some victims still suffer emotional damage including depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). In many cases, ongoing mental health treatment is necessary.
Burn Injury Prevention
While the majority of burn injuries occur in residential settings, many occur in occupational settings, during vehicle accidents and while participating in recreational activities/ sports as well. Although some burns are simply the result of conditions that are out of the victim’s control, many can be prevented by taking a few precautions.
- Burn injuries are not always caused by exposure to hot surfaces, steam or flames. In fact 3 percent of serious burn injuries are caused by exposure to chemicals, and another 4 percent are caused by electricity. Taking the proper safety precautions, like turning off power, reading and obeying warning labels, and wearing personal protective equipment when working with chemicals or electricity can significantly reduce the chances for injury.
- Approximately 72 percent of severe burns occur in residential settings, and cooking is one of the most common causes. Individuals should be cautious when working with hot liquids, use care when removing lids or other coverings (such action may allow steam to escape and cause burn injuries), always use oven mitts that are free of tears, holes or extensive wear, and never allow children to cook without competent adult supervision.
- Scalding is responsible for approximately 34 percent of medically treated burn injuries. These burns can often be prevented by testing the temperature of bath or shower water before allowing children to be exposed, turning down the temperature on water heaters, and using care when hot food or liquids are near.
- Children are at the highest risk for experiencing burn related injuries and fatalities in the United States. Parents and caregivers can reduce this risk by never allowing children to play in danger zones (radiators, stoves, camp fires, cooking grills or other open flames), keeping harmful chemicals out of reach or securely stored, making sure electrical cords and small appliances are kept away from water, and protecting electrical outlets from curious explorers.
- An estimated 9 percent of severe burns happen while on the job. Workers can help prevent injuries by being aware of risks and reporting them right away.