What are burns?

Burns are a traumatic injury caused by thermal, electrical, chemical, or electromagnetic energy. The leading cause of burn injury in adults is an open flame, while the leading cause of burn injury in children is scalding. Infants and elderly are at the highest risk for burn injury. Severe burns (especially second & third-degree burns) often require emergency medical care. 

What are the different types of burns?

A burn injury usually results from an energy transfer to the body. Various types of burns may occur as a result of thermal, radiation, chemical, or electrical contact:

•    Thermal burns due to external heat sources, which increase the temperature of the skin and tissues, causing tissue cell death or charring. When coming in contact with the skin; hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, and flames, can cause thermal burns.

•    Chemical burns due to strong acids, detergents, alkalies, or solvents coming into contact with the skin and/or eyes.

•    Electrical burns from electrical current, either direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC).

•    Radiation burns due to prolonged exposure sources of radiation such as the ultraviolet rays of the sun, or x-ray.

How are burns classified?

Burns are classified as first-, second-, or third-degree, depending on the depth and severity of their penetration to the skin's surface:

•    First-degree (superficial) burns affect only the outer layer of skin, the epidermis. The burn site is red, painful, dry, and with no blisters, for instance: mild sunburn. Long-term tissue damage is rare and usually consists of an increase or decrease in the skin color.

•    Second-degree (partial thickness) burns involve the epidermis and part of the dermis layer of the skin. The burn site appears red, blistered, and may be swollen and painful.

•    Third-degree (full thickness) burns destroy the epidermis and dermis. Third-degree burns may also damage the underlying bones, muscles, and tendons. The burn site appears white or charred, and there is no sensation in the area since the nerve endings are destroyed.

What are the effects of burns?

A severe burn can be a serious injury, not only physically but also emotionally, and not only to the victim but the entire family. Survivors with severe burns may be left with a loss of some physical capabilities, disfigurement, a loss of mobility or a limb, scarring, infection, emotional trauma, and/or loss of a friend or family member and possessions in the fire. Severe burns are capable of causing muscle or tissue damage, virtually affecting every system of the body.

What are the treatments for burns?

Specific treatment for burns will be determined by a physician based on:

•    Age, overall health, and medical history

•    Type, classification, location, and severity of the burn

•    Patient’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

•    Expectations for the course of the burn injury

•    Patient’s opinion or preference



•    Wound care

•    Intravenous (IV) fluids and electrolytes

•    Pain management

•    Skin grafting

•    Functional and cosmetic reconstruction

•    Physical therapy

•    Occupational therapy