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Burns are very common injuries that can occur in the home, workplace, and just about anywhere else in our busy, everyday lives. In most cases, burns are superficial and can be treated at home without medical attention. Some burns, however, can be severe or even life-threatening. In these cases, emergency burn treatment is required.

Determining the Severity of Burns

The severity of a burn is primary based upon the depth of the skin that has been damaged. A burn that only affects the first layer of skin is a first-degree burn. Second-degree burns can be broken down into two categories – superficial burns to the first and second skin layers and deep partial-thickness burns that affect deeper layers as well. Burns that damage all the skin layers as well as the underlying tissue are classed as third-degree while those that cause extensive damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, and then, if bones are affected this wuld be fourth-degree. The severity also depends on the location, and type of burn as well as the age and overall health of the victim.

Size is another major factor when determining the severity of a burn. In general, a burn covering more than 15% of the body of a healthy adult or 10% of the body of an infant or elderly person is considered severe and requires immediate medical attention. The exact percentage varies based on the patient, type of burn, and areas affected. Doctors are able to use Lund & Browder charts to accurately assess the total percentage of the body that has been burned.

Burn treatments

Burns can be treated in numerous ways depending upon the severity. First and second-degree burns are usually treated by simply rinsing the area with cool water and keeping it clean. With most burns, infection is a major concern, and medical attention is required if infection is suspected. Third and fourth-degree burns need to be treated by a doctor, but the exact treatment may vary. With these serious burns, the skin is often unable to grow back on its own, so skin grafts may be required. In severe burn cases affecting the extremities, amputation may be necessary if the area is damaged beyond repair or to prevent the spread of infection.


The prognosis for burn victims varies greatly depending on the severity of the injury. Due to recent improvements in burn treatment, however, fewer than 5% of burn victims die as a result of their injuries. Severe burns often leave significant scarring and in some cases can reduce function and range of motion. Extended hospitalization and extensive therapy are usually necessary. When kept clean, minor burns tend to heal on their own with little or no complications. Second-degree burns may cause mild scarring but in most cases will not have any long-term effect.