Accidents resulting in serious burn injuries can have devastating consequences for the injured person. Depending on the severity of the burn, victims may require extended hospital care, numerous surgeries, and prolonged physical therapy to regain optimum function. Moreover, burn injuries can have enormous psychological and emotional consequences for the victim and their family. Therefore, those individuals sustaining severe burn injury should seek the best medical care possible.

There are many causes of burn injury. Burn injuries frequently occur as the result of motor vehicle accidents, but may also occur in boating, train, or airplane accidents, when consumer products fail, or in any other number of ways. In any burn injury case, it is important to understand the degree of injury and the treatment options available to any victim. The information contained below is provided to help you obtain a basic understanding of burn injury classification, treatment, and available resources.

Degrees of Burns

There are four basic categories of burns, ranging from first to fourth degree, with fourth degree representing the most significant level of burn.

First Degree – these burns only effect the outer layers of skin. In most cases, first degree burns will appear as irritations on the skin, such as a bright red skin color or blotchy marks in the burned area. Usually, first degree burns will heal on their own, within about seven to ten days, although many victims of first degree burn find comfort in using soothing or medicating rubs, including aloe based products. The most common form of first degree burn is a sunburn.

Second Degree – when the burn permeates through the first layers of skin and causes damage to the more substantial skin layers underneath, the burn will be classified as a second degree burn. In many cases, these burns will manifest as either clear or blood-filled blisters in the burned area. Most, though not all, second degree burns will leave scar tissue in the burned area. In some cases, skin grafting may be used to alleviate scar tissue.

Third Degree – these burns penetrate all the way through the outer layers of skin, and cause burn damage to the subcutaneous skin layers, which sit just above the muscle and bone. In almost all third degree burn cases, the burn will leave substantial scarring throughout the affected area, and will likely require skin grafts. In extreme cases, amputation may be necessary.

Fourth Degree – representing the most severe of all burns, a burn will be classified as fourth degree when it pierces through all layers of the skin and causes damage to the underlying muscle, bone, or internal organs. Treatment almost always requires amputation of the burned area, and in many cases, these burns cause death.

Severity of Burns

Burn injuries are often classified by the severity of the burn, in addition to the degree. This classification is based on how much of the body was affected by the burn. By identifying the total body surface area (TBSA) of the burn, medical care providers may better assess the need for burn-specific care.

Major Burns – cover more than 20% of the body surface, or when the burn affects the face or hands of the victims. In some cases, a victim will be classified as suffering a major burn when he or she sustains major damage to a joint, such as a knee or shoulder. Major burns almost always require specialized care at a burn treatment center.

Moderate Burns – burns which cover between 15% and 25% of the total body surface area are categorized as moderate burns. In most cases, moderate burns can be treated at local inpatient facilities, such as your local hospital, rather than at a specialized burn center.

Minor Burns – burns covering less than 15% of the total body surface area are classified as minor burns, although it should be pointed out that this categorization has nothing to do with the pain or suffering that the victim may be under. Typically, minor burns can be treated at an outpatient facility, such as an emergency room, doctor’s office, or redi-care.