About Burns

Burns are injuries to tissues caused by heat, friction, electricity, radiation, or chemicals. They may be caused by even a brief encounter with heat greater than 120°F (49°C). The source of this heat may be the sun (causing a sunburn), hot liquids, steam, fire, electricity, friction (causing rug burns and rope burns), and chemicals (causing a caustic burn upon contact).

Burns are characterized by degree, based on the severity of tissue damage. A first-degree burn causes redness and swelling in the outermost layers of skin (epidermis). A second-degree burn involves redness, swelling and blistering,and the damage may extend beneath the epidermis to deeper layers of skin (dermis). A third-degree burn, also called a full-thickness burn, destroys the entire depth of skin, causing significant scarring. Damage also may extend to the underlying fat, muscle, or bone. The severity of a burn is also judged by the amount of body surface area (BSA) it involves.

Critical, or major, burns are the most serious and should be treated in a specialized burn unit of a hospital. These are defined as first- or second-degree burns covering more than 25% of an adult’s body or more than 20% of a child’s body, or a third-degree burn on more than 10% BSA.