Everything You Need to Know About Burn Injures: Statistics, Facts and Survivor Options

A burn injury damages a person’s skin or deeper tissues, muscles and even bones primarily caused by heat, chemicals, fire, electricity, sunlight or radiation. While scalds from hot or flammable liquids and building fires are the most common source of burns, they are not always the most severe. The cause and severity of the burn will greatly determine the survivor’s pain levels, treatment and recovery timeline.

Unfortunately, burn injuries are quite common with more than 3 million cases per year in the United States. Globally, around 265,000 people die each year from burn injuries, most of whom live in low- and middle-income countries. Non-fatal burn injuries are also the leading cause of morbidity, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Severity of Burn Injuries

While most burns are associated with pain, minor burns generally heal on their own with little to no medical attention. More severe burns, however, medically ranked by degrees, require special care to prevent infection and reduce potential scarring.

FIRST-DEGREE BURNS

Also called “superficial burns”, first-degree burns are the most common causing minor damage to the outer, or first, layer of skin. Typically from brief contact with a hot item or the sun, first-degree burn symptoms include: redness, minor swelling, pain and dry skin. The skin will begin to peel away as the burn heals, often in seven to 10 days. These burns, like sunburns, are treatable at home; however, if a large or sensitive area is affected, such as the face, a doctor may be able to help aid in the body’s natural healing process.

 

SECOND-DEGREE BURNS

Generally from boiling water, extended contact with hot objects or too much sun exposure, these burns burn through the first and second layer of skin. In addition to first-degree symptoms, second-degree burns will blister and pop, giving the affected area a wet-like appearance. During the healing process, thick, scab-like tissue may also develop over the burnt area. The worse the blisters, the longer healing will take. If the burn is three inches or wider or affects the face, hands, butt, groin or feet, seek medical attention.

 

THIRD-DEGREE BURNS

After extended contact or exposure with hot objects, third degree burns penetrate through all three layers of the skin. While the victim’s physical appearance will change- leathery white or black skin with undeveloped blisters- physical pain may actually not exist due to the extensive nerve damage. Third-degree burn victims should always seek immediate medical attention. Without surgery, the burns will heal with intense scarring and contracture.

 

FOURTH-DEGREE BURNS

Though not all organizations separate third and fourth burns, fourth degree burns are life-threatening injuries. Affecting all layers of the epidermis and below- muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones- fourth-degree burns require surgery and often leave survivors with permanent disabilities or amputations.

Types of Burn Injuries

HEAT/THERMAL BURNS

  • From fire/flames, car fires, steam or touching hot objects.
  • Classified as first, second or third-degree burns depending on the temperature and length of exposure.
  • At 155 degrees. A third degree burn can occur in one second
  • Scalds are the leading cause of burn injuries for children and seniors

ELECTRICAL BURNS

  • From any electric current including lightning, stun guns and household currents
  • Around 1,000 people die from electrical burns each year in the U.S. with a 3-15 percent mortality rate
  • Half of electrical burns are caused by direct contact with power lines
  • These burns commonly affect internal organ and tissues as well as the skin
  • Victims should always seek a doctor for medical attention as burns may not be visible on the skin, but internal damage could still exist
  • There are 6 main types of electrical burns
    1. Arc Burn- does not require direct contact with electricity; the burn is caused by the electrical energy traveling from an area of high to low resistance
    2. Low Voltage Burn- Contact with a power source of 500 volts or less; typically a mild burn with no internal damage
    3. High Voltage Burn- Direct contact with a high voltage source; current runs through the body causing organ and tissue damage but not always skin damage
    4. Oral Burn- Most common in children from biting into cords or from faulty dental equipment; current runs through mouth causing extensive damage and burns
    5. Flash Burn- Caused by intense flashes of light, high voltage electric current or strong thermal radiation
    6. Flame Burn: Flames may ignite from any of the above electrical currents

CHEMICAL BURNS

  • Most commonly occur in the home or workplace and with children or seniors
  • 3 percent of burns in the U.S. are chemical burns
  • Very painful and may be more serious than some thermal burns
    • Swallowing chemicals may lead to internal organ damage
    • Chemicals in the eyes may lead to vision loss
    • Often affect deep tissue
  • Caused by common household products like acids and bases- for a list of the top 10 household cleaning products causing chemical burns, click here
  • Also caused by mixing two household products together- for a list of cleaning products you should never mix, click here.

RADIATION BURNS

  • Caused by radiation exposure from UV light, most often the sun, or high frequency microwaves, radio waves, nuclear energy, etc.
  • While extent of damage is based off exposure length, gamma rays can cause deep tissue damage while beta particles cause beta burns affecting the skin’s surface
  • Radiation burns differ from all burns above because it alters cell structure, potentially leading to cell mutations and cancer

INHALATION BURNS

  • Inhaling fires or toxic fumes like carbon monoxide can cause acute internal injuries
  • May damage eyes, respiratory system and cause chronic heart and lung disease
  • Explosions with carbon monoxide can cause oxygen levels in a fire atmosphere to drop from 21 to 10 percent
  • For some statistics, thermal and inhalation burns are grouped together because it can be difficult to determine which one caused the death in extreme circumstances

Types of Scars From Burns

KELOID SCARS
What: A raised scar after an injury is healed from an overgrowth of scar tissue

Appearance: Lumpy or rigid, typically larger than the injury; red or pink coloring that fades to a dark tan overtime

How Common: Very, with over 3 million cases in the U.S. annually; those with darkly pigmented skin are more likely to develop keloid scars

Side Effects: Some may be itchy, uncomfortable and tender, keloid scars are not medically harmful. However, in rare instances where keloid scars cover large areas of the body, the hardened scar tissue may restrict mobility.

Treatment: Generally for cosmetic purposes, treatments may include self-care remedies such as silicone gel sheets or professional treatments including steroids, topical medication or cryotherapy (freezing). However, keloids can re-occur after treatments.

HYPERTROPHIC SCARS
What:Similar to keloid scars, but do not spread beyond the injury site

Appearance: Red scar tissue raised above the skin

How Common: Very common; skin pigmentation is not as great a factor as with keloids

Side effects: generally much less painful then keloid scars; the raised scar will flatten spontaneously with time

CONTRACTURE SCARS
What: Tight and inflexible scar tissue usually forming over joints or muscles

Side Effects: Normal elastic connective tissues are replaced with inelastic fibers, eventually preventing normal movement of the affected area. Such tightening of the skin can affect muscles, tendons and nerves.

Treatments: Physical therapy, pressure and exercise may help lessen or control contracture scars. If these don’t work, more serious options include surgery, skin grafts, or newer techniques like Z-Plasty and tissue expansion.

Nutrition for Burn Survivors

Proper nutrition is essential to a healthy, full recover for sever burn survivors. Burns loose proteins through wounds, break down muscles for energy while healing and increase the body’s metabolic response more than any other disease state.

HIGH-CALORIE DIET: While the average healthy adult needs around 2,000 calories per day, a burn victim requires at least 2,500 per day on average. Any liquid dietary supplements should be consumed separately for meals to make sure their appetite is not suppressed.

HIGH-PROTEIN DIET: Proteins are essential to healing wounds and regaining and retaining muscle strength. The average burn victim uses more than 150 grams of protein per day. If the body doesn’t have enough protein, the patient may suffer from a loss of muscle mass, slower healing of wounds and a weakened immune system. Healthy high protein foods include: meat, eggs, beans, milk, yogurt, nuts, peanut butter, tofu, etc.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT CARBOHYDRATES: The body uses glucose for energy to heal wounds- eating enough carbs will ensure there’s enough glucose. Healthy carbs should be the main source of energy for burn victims, therefore reserving the proteins to promote healing. Whole grains, beans, fruit and vegetables are all great options to fulfill this need.

MONITOR FAT INTAKE: Fats are a double edge sword for burn survivors; they are essential to upping calories and the healing process but too much fatty acid consumption can weaken the immune system. Doctors or nutritionists specializing in burn patient diets should advise how much fat patients need based on their severity of injuries.

For more information on nutrition for burn injury survivors, read our blog post.

HOW ARE NUTRITIONAL NEEDS DETERMINED?

Dietitians follow two main formulas to determine a burn patient’s diet. For adults, the Harris-Benedict equation finds a patient’s base metabolic rate and then applies an “activity factor” to determine the amount of calories used per day. The Galveston formula, used for children, focuses more on body surface area as opposed to weight.

Burn Injury Statistics in the United States

Globally and nationally, burn injury data is not monitored as closely as other accidents or injuries, such as car accidents. However, national organizations such as the CDC, American Burn Association (ABA) and the U.S. Fire Administration work to gather and analyze as much comprehensive data as possible. Below are their estimates for annual burn injuries:

  • In 2000, someone died in a fire every 2 hours while someone was injured every 23 minutes, on average
  • The CDC estimates 1.1 million burn injuries need medical attention every year- of these burns:
    • 50,000 require hospital stay
    • 20,000 have burns involving 25 percent of the body
    • 4,500 people die
  • This is a huge improvement from the mid 1970s when about 9,000 people died of burn injuries annually and anyone with burns covering more than 20 percent of their body almost always died.
  • Today, people with burns covering 90 percent of their body can survive, but will likely have permanent disabilities
  • Americans have a 1 in 1,442 chance of dying from exposure to fire, flames or smoke inhalation
  • Around 10,000 people die annually from burn-related infections

FIRES IN THE U.S.

For current information on the Northern California fires raging through Napa, Sonoma and more, please visit our wildfire page. You’ll find information regarding smoke inhalation, air pollution, lawsuits and more. 

Source: NFPA

  • 1,345,500 fires were reported in 2015- almost a 4 percent increase from 2014
    • 639,500 were classified as outside & ‘other’ fires, totaling one every 49 seconds
    • 501,500 fires were classified as structure fires, totaling one every 63 seconds
    • 174,000 fires were classified as highway vehicle fires, totaling one every 181 seconds
  • A fire department responded to a fire every 23 seconds
  • These fires killed 3,280 people and injured almost 16,000
  • 78 percent of deaths occurred in house fires
  • $14.3 billion in property damage
  • Texas, California and Pennsylvania suffered the greatest number of fire deaths in 2014 while Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia and D.C. had the most deaths per million

DEMOGRAPHICS OF U.S. FIRE DEATHS AND INJURIES

  • The national fire death rate is 10.7 per million
  • The national injury rate is 49.5 per million
  • In 2014, More men were killed (61.5%) or injured (58.5%) from fire-related injuries than women
  • Black (20) and Native American (19.5) males have the highest fatality rates per million
  • Overall, the risk of dying from fire and burn injuries has declined the past decade.
    • Between 2005-2014, risk of dying in a fire decreased by 50% for children 14 and younger. In 2014, this age group lost 285 children to fire-related injuries- a rate of 4.7 per million.
    • In the same time frame, the likelihood of those 65 and over dying from a fire decreased by 23 percent. In 2014, this age group lost 1,306 people- a rate of 28.3 per million.
    • People ages 85 and older have the highest death and injury rates at 44.5 and 68.5 per million

INJURIES FROM FIRES, 2000-2015

Source: NFPA Statistics – civilian injuries does not include firefighters

NATIONAL BURN REPOSITORY, 2015

This annual study the National Burn Repository and the ABA gathers data from participating hospitals across the country with burn units. In 2015, 99 burn centers sent over their data, making for largest participant pool to date, but still only representative of 75% of U.S. burn units. The data below is based off their report.

  • 203,422 total burn injuries
    • 79,303 burns from fire or flames
    • 63,247 burns from scalds
    • 16,588 burns from touching hot objects
    • 6,689 electrical burns
    • 6,301 chemical burns
    • 478 radiation cases
    • 415 skin disease cases
    • 17,402 burns from an unknown (not reported) source

Source: National Burn Repository, 2015. The data is based off burns requiring emergency room visits between 2005 and 2014.

The 7 percent for “other” burn injuries includes: unspecified burn (2.7%), non-burn (2.5%), inhalation only (1.7%), radiation (0.3%) and skin disease (0.2%). The percentages add up to 7.4, rather than seven, due to rounding of earlier numbers.

WHERE AND WHY BURN INJURIES OCCURRED IN THE UNITED STATES

  • An overwhelming amount of severe burn injuries happen in the home at 73.2 percent
  • Industrial, other, recreation or sport, and street or highway follow at 8.1, 5.4, 4.7, and 4.5 percent
  • 22,706 of the 203,422 victims did not specify where the burn accident took place
  • Over 90 percent of burns were considered accidental
    • 71.7% burns from accident, non-work related
    • 13.7% burns from accident, work related
    • 4.2% burns from accident, recreation
    • 4.2% burns accident, unspecified
  • 3.3 percent of the burns were non-accidents
    • 1.1% suspected child abuse
    • 1.1% self inflicted
    • 0.2% suspected arson
  • 7.3 percent of hospital records did not specify the circumstance surrounding the burn injury in 2015- an improvement from 2014’s annual report when 9 percent did not specify.

DEMOGRAPHICS FOR U.S. BURN VICTIMS

Men account for more than half of all burn victims in the United States, with 138,644 cases out of 203,422. Broken down by age group, men consistently outnumber women, as well.

Whites account for 58.6 percent of burn injuries. Following suit, white people are admitted to burn units more often than non-whites when five and older. Children under 5, however, are predominantly non-white. “This suggests that racial factors may influence the occurrence of burn injuries and/or admission to a burn center differently as a function of age,” as the 2015 National Burn Repository states. Black, hispanic and asian victims account for 19, 14 and 2.5 percent, respectively.

RACE FOR CHILDREN UNDER ONE YEAR

  • White: 40.9%
  • Black: 24.9%
  • Hispanic: 20.7%
  • Asian: 4.6%
  • Native American: 1.4%
  • Other: 7.5%
  • 510 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR ONE YEAR OLDS

  • White: 37.8%
  • Black: 25.5%
  • Hispanic: 23.9%
  • Asian: 4.3%
  • Native American: 0.8%
  • Other: 7.7%
  • 615 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR TWO TO FOUR YEAR OLDS

  • White: 42.5%
  • Black: 25.9%
  • Hispanic: 21.6%
  • Asian: 3.0%
  • Native American: 1.1%
  • Other: 6%
  • 475 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR FIVE TO 15 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 51.8%
  • Black: 24.8%
  • Hispanic: 15.7%
  • Asian: 2.2%
  • Native American: 1%
  • Other: 4.6%
  • 719 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 16-19 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 65.4%
  • Black: 16%
  • Hispanic: 12.5%
  • Asian: 1.3%
  • Native American: 0.7%
  • Other: 4%
  • 525 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 20-29 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 62%
  • Black: 16.1%
  • Hispanic: 14.8%
  • Asian: 1.9%
  • Native American: 0.8%
  • Other: 4.3%
  • 1,679 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 30-39 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 60.5%
  • Black: 17.4%
  • Hispanic: 15.2%
  • Asian: 2.2%
  • Native American: 0.7%
  • Other: 4%
  • 1,355 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 40-49 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 63.4%
  • Black: 18.7%
  • Hispanic: 11.4%
  • Asian: 2%
  • Native American: 0.9%
  • Other: 3.6%
  • 1,440 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 50-59 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 65.6%
  • Black: 19.6%
  • Hispanic: 8.8%
  • Asian: 2.1%
  • Native American: 0.6%
  • Other: 3.4%
  • 1,192 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 60-69 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 68.6%
  • Black: 18.1%
  • Hispanic: 6.8%
  • Asian: 2.5%
  • Native American: 0.7%
  • Other: 3.4%
  • 745 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 70-79 YEAR OLDS

  • White: 70.6%
  • Black: 16.9%
  • Hispanic: 6%
  • Asian: 2.8%
  • Native American: 0.6%
  • Other: 3.1%
  • 404 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

RACE FOR 80+

  • White: 73.4%
  • Black: 14.9%
  • Hispanic: 5%
  • Asian: 3%
  • Native American: 0.3%
  • Other: 3.4%
  • 289 victim’s race was unknown and therefore excluded from the overall percentage rate

Global Statistics for Burn Injuries

WHO monitors burn injuries and fatalities around the world. They classify burns as a public health problem in need of more attention.

DEATHS

  • 265,000 annual deaths
  • The majority of deaths are in middle- to low-income countries
  • In many high-income countries, including the U.S., burn death rates are decreasing
  • Child deaths from burn injuries are 7x higher in low- to middle-income countries than high-income countries
  • Burns are the 11th leading cause of death for children ages 1-9

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • Females and males have similar burn rates, globally. This is contrast with the U.S. where males predominantly have a higher rate of injuries and deaths.
  • The global higher risk for females is associated with “open fire cooking, or inherently unsafe cookstoves, which can ignite loose clothing” according to WHO.
  • Burns are the fifth most common cause of non-fatal child injuries

REGIONAL STATISTICS

  • WHO African Region: Children under 5 are 3x more likely to die from burns than infants worldwide
  • WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region: Boys under 5 living in this region’s low- and middle-income country are 6x more likely to die from burns than boys in the WHO European Region
  • WHO Western Pacific Region: Burns are 20x more likely to require medical attention when compared to the WHO Region of the Americas
  • India: Over 1 million people are moderately to severely burned annually
  • Bangladeshi: Almost 173,000 children are moderately to severely burned annually
  • In Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt and Pakistan, 17 percent of children with burn injuries now have a temporary disability while 18 percent have a permanent disability
  • Nepal: In rural areas, burns are the 2nd most common injury, responsible for 5 percent of disabilities

 FAQs About Burn Injury Lawsuits

Q. Who Can Sue?

A. Anyone who suffered a moderate to serious burn injury due to someone else’s negligence can sue for damages including, but not limited to: medical bills, loss of wages and emotional damage. Some examples include victims of apartment or public building fires, burns resulting from faulty fire alarm systems or someone exposing you to harmful chemicals resulting in burn injuries.

Q.What Damages May Burn Victims be Entitled to?

A. Past and future medical expenses, loss of income/wags, possible future loss of earning capacity due to injuries, and compensation for future pain, disability and emotional trauma

Q. Who Can be Held Responsible for my Burn Injury?

A. This, of course, depends on the circumstances of the fire and resulting injury. Possibilities may include an individual, a homeowner of property management company, or manufacturers of a product.

Q. Are Investigations an Important Part of the Lawsuit?

A. Yes. Investigations, either through police and fire reports or through the attorney’s team of investigators and expert witnesses, are always important. Property should be immediately investigated for evidence surrounding the source of the fire and resulting personal and property damages.

Q. Will There be Extra or Surprise Attorney Charges Around my Lawsuit?

A. This depends entirely on the type of attorney hired to fight for you. Before hiring a burn injury lawyer, people should research online for reviews and testimonials, check out major attorney directories like Avvo and Justia, explore the attorney’s website and utilize free consultations. Make sure to ask how their office handles payments and what may cause payments to increase throughout the court process. Expert witnesses in particular are often called to help prove negligence- which may cost money, again depending on the attorney.



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