Burns are a type of traumatic injury caused by thermal, electrical, chemical, or electromagnetic energy. Smoking and open flame are the leading causes of burn injury for older adults, while scalding is the leading cause of burn injury for children. Both infants and the elderly are at the greatest risk for burn injury.
Burns are classified as first-, second-, or third-degree, depending on how deep and severely they penetrate the skin's surface.
- First-degree (superficial) burns
First-degree burns affect only the epidermis, or outer layer of skin. The burn site is red, painful, dry, and with no blisters. Mild sunburn is an example. Long-term tissue damage is rare and usually consists of an increase or decrease in the skin color.
- Second-degree (partial thickness) burns
Second-degree burns involve the epidermis and part of the dermis layer of skin. The burn site appears red, blistered, and may be swollen and painful.
- Third-degree (full thickness) burns
Third-degree burns destroy the epidermis and dermis. Third-degree burns may also damage the underlying bones, muscles, and tendons. When bones, muscles, or tendons are also burned, this may be referred to as a fourth-degree burn. The burn site appears white or charred. There is no sensation in the area since the nerve endings are destroyed.
Burns that are more severe and extensive require specialized treatment. Because the age of a burn victim and the percentage of the body's surface area that has been burned are the two most important factors affecting the prognosis of a burn injury, the American Burn Association recommends that burn patients who meet the following criteria should be treated at a center that specializes in burn injuries, such as The Wound Healing Center.
- Individuals with partial-thickness burns over 10 percent or more of the total body surface area (TBSA)
- Any age with full-thickness burns
- Burns of the face, hands, feet, or perineum (groin, or genital area), or burns that extend all the way around a portion of the body
- Burns accompanied by an inhalation injury affecting the airway and/or the lungs
- Burn patients with existing chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, or multiple sclerosis
- Suspected child or elder abuse
- Chemical burn
- Electrical injury