Burn Injuries: Causes, Types, and Prevention
Burn injuries constitute a critical public health concern with implications for individuals and communities. Burns are more than just painful wounds; they can have long-term physical, emotional, and financial consequences.
Understanding the causes and types of burns is important in preventing these devastating incidents. We’ll delve into the various causes of burns, explore the different types of burns, and provide practical guidance on prevention and safety measures.
Burn Injuries Statistics
A clinical study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around 11 million people annually experience burn injuries. Among them, approximately 180,000 individuals lost their lives due to these injuries.
According to information from the City of Leduc, burns continue to be the third most common cause of accidental injuries at home. In Canada, approximately 45,000 burn injuries occur annually, with about 2,000 requiring hospitalization.
Between 2010 and 2014, an average of 110 Canadians tragically lost their lives each year due to burns sustained in fires, and ten times as many people were hospitalized annually due to fire-related injuries during that same period.
Causes of Burn Injuries
Burn injuries vary in severity and require different approaches to treatment and healing. Here, we provide an overview of the various kinds of burn injuries and their respective causes.
1. Thermal Burns
Thermal burns result from exposure to excessive heat or flames. They occur when the skin and underlying tissues are damaged due to contact with hot objects, fire, or scalding liquids.
Common Sources of Thermal Burns:
Flames from various sources (e.g., house fires, wildfires).
Spills from boiling water, hot oil, or beverages.
Contact with hot stovetops, irons, or cookware.
Exposure to pressurized steam, often in industrial settings.
Prolonged exposure to intense heat sources like furnaces.
StatPearls, a company specializing in healthcare education and technology, reports that every year, approximately 450,000 patients need treatment for burns, with around 30,000 requiring admission to burn centers. Among these cases, thermal burns comprise the majority at 86%, including 43% from fire or flame, 34% from scalds, and 9% from contact with hot objects.
2. Chemical Burns
Chemical burns occur when the skin or mucous membranes come into contact with harmful chemicals, causing damage to the affected area. They result from corrosive substances such as acids, alkalis (bases), solvents, or household cleaning products.
Strong acids like sulfuric, hydrochloric, or nitric acids.
Caustic substances such as sodium hydroxide (lye) or potassium hydroxide.
Chemicals found in paint thinners, nail polish remover, and industrial solvents.
Common household cleaning products like bleach or drain cleaners.
Exposure to chemicals in workplaces, such as acids used in manufacturing.
A review from the National Library of Medicine found that while chemical burns make up a small portion (up to 10.7%) of all skin burns, they can be responsible for a significant number of burn-related deaths, accounting for as much as 30%. The incidence of chemical burns, as reported in various studies, ranges from 2.4% to 10.7%, and they are more common among males.
In eight years, they identified 185 cases of chemical burns, which amounted to 7.9% of all burn cases. The average age of the patients was 40 years, ranging from 16 to 81 years, and there were 6.4 males for every female patient in this group.
3. Electrical Burns
Electrical burns result from contact with an electric current, causing damage to the body’s tissues. These burns possess unique characteristics due to the nature of electricity:
- Causes damage beneath the skin, affecting muscles, nerves, and even internal organs.
- Severity varies depending on voltage, duration of contact, and the path the electric current takes through the body.
- Can lead to cardiac arrest, fractures, and neurological damage.
Causes of Electrical Burns
Damaged or exposed wires in buildings or appliances.
Accidental contact with malfunctioning or wet electrical devices.
Contact with overhead or buried power lines.
Direct or indirect strikes by lightning.
Mishandling or accidents involving electrical machinery.
Based on data from the Electrical Safety Authority’s Ontario Electrical Safety Report (OESR) in 2021, the five-year average rate of electrocution, burn fatalities, and electrical fire fatalities has been consistently low, with less than one per million population since 2014. While there has been a general decrease in electrical fire and electrocution fatalities over the years, the most recent five-year average did show a slight increase.
4. Radiation Burns
Radiation burns result from exposure to different types of radiation, not heat or flames. Common sources include sunlight (UV rays) and medical X-rays.
Ultraviolet (UV) Rays
From the sun and tanning beds cause sunburn and skin cancer risks.
Used in medical imaging; extended exposure can lead to radiation burns.
From nuclear accidents, radiation therapy, or radioactive materials.
Rare but can cause mild skin damage when accidents occur.
Types of Burns
Burn injuries range in severity based on the depth of tissue damage, which in turn dictates the level of medical intervention required. To better grasp these distinctions and categorize them effectively, let’s explore the various types of burns:
1. First-Degree Burns
First-degree burns are superficial burns that affect only the outermost layer of skin, known as the epidermis. They are characterized by:
- Skin Texture
- Minimal Tissue Damage
Pain and discomfort
Overexposure to UV rays from the sun.
Redness and warmth at the burn site.
Brief contact with hot liquids or steam.
Superficial Thermal Burns:
Contact with a hot object for a short duration.
2. Second-Degree Burns
Second-degree burns, also known as partial-thickness burns, extend beyond the top layer (epidermis) and affect the skin’s second layer (dermis). Key characteristics include:
- Formation of Blisters
- Redness and Swelling
- Intense Pain
- Increased Tissue Damage
Severe Sunburn: Prolonged sun exposure causing blistering.
Scalds: Contact with hot liquids or steam causing partial-thickness burns.
Deep Thermal Burns: Contact with hot objects, open flames, or scalding substances.
Severity levels of second-degree burns can be classified into two categories:
3. Third-Degree Burns
These burns extend through the entire thickness of the skin, damaging not only the epidermis and dermis but also underlying tissues, including muscles and bones. Key characteristics include:
- Charred Appearance
- Little to No Pain
- High Risk of Complications.
- The burn area can appear charred, white, or leathery.
- Numbness due to nerve damage.
- Minimal to no pain (although surrounding areas can be painful).
- Severe house fires with prolonged exposure.
- Electrical burns.
- Contact with extremely hot objects or substances.
- Prolonged exposure to flames.
Extent of Tissue Damage in Third-Degree Burns
Tissue Damage Level
Extent of Tissue Damage
Partial to complete damage.
Partial to complete damage.
Partial to complete damage.
4. Fourth-Degree Burns
Fourth-degree burns are extremely rare but represent the most severe form of burn injury, extending beyond the skin layers to affect deeper tissues, muscles, and even bones. Fourth-degree burns are characterized by:
- Complete Tissue Destruction
- Charring and Numbness
- High Complication Risk
- Surgical Intervention
Comparison to Other Burn Types
Most severe, deep tissue damage, life-threatening
Extensive tissue damage, high risk of complications, surgical intervention needed.
Deep skin and tissue damage, potential complications
Severe tissue damage, numbness, risk of complications, and can require surgery.
Blistering, moderate pain
Pain, blistering, risk of infection, potential for scarring.
Superficial, mild pain, minimal tissue damage
Mild pain, redness, minimal tissue damage, typically heals without scarring.
While first aid is valuable, prevention remains the most effective strategy. Creating a safe environment is far superior rather than dealing with the complexities of fire damage afterward. The following information outlines proactive measures to minimize the risk of a fire outbreak:
Fire Safety Measures
Hazards and Prevention
Electrical Safety Precautions
- Use safety gates and outlet covers.
- Keep hot items out of children’s reach.
- Secure heavy furniture.
- Use safety locks on cabinets.
- Supervise near hot appliances.
Immediate Response to Burns:
- Remove from burn source.
- Cool with cold, running water.
- Cover with clean cloth.
- Seek medical help for severe burns.
Protective Gear Examples:
- Helmets for sports and biking.
- Safety goggles for work.
- Fire-resistant clothing for firefighters.
- Gloves for hot objects.
- Reflective vests for roadside workers.
Frequently Asked Questions
To choose the right personal injury lawyer, consider factors like their experience, specialization in personal injury law, track record of successful cases, reputation, and communication style. It’s essential to have a lawyer who understands your case and can effectively represent your interests.