Burns are serious injuries, especially when they affect several layers of the skin and underlying tissues. Although many people who experience minor to moderate burn injuries go on to make a complete recovery in a few days or weeks, a severe burn can affect someone for months, years, or the rest of their life. The aftermath of a burn injury, in fact, can be so serious that some experts believe it should be classified as a chronic disease.
In a 2019 study in Burns & Trauma, researchers set out to understand burn injuries in a different way than previously thought:
Population studies have linked burn injury with increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, nervous system disorders, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, gastrointestinal disease, infections, anxiety and depression. The wide range of secondary pathologies indicates that burn can cause sustained disruption of homeostasis, presenting new challenges for post-burn care. Understanding burn injury as a chronic disease will improve patient care, providing evidence for better long-term support and monitoring of patients.
They note that burn injuries continue to be a major public health issue, with approximately 11 million new burn injuries occurring every year around the world, resulting in over 300,000 fatalities.
Overall and long-term impacts of burns
In addition to the familiar and known complications from burn injuries, researchers found the following long-term abnormalities also develop in burn patients:
- Hypermetabolism, causing loss of muscle mass and bone density
- Hypertrophic scarring, a thick and raised scar causing muscle contraction
- Mental health disorders, including PTSD
- Chronic persistent pain
- Increased mortality rates, for both children and adults
- Increased risk of disease, including:
- Cancer (all types)
- Infectious disease
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Cardiovascular and circulatory system disease
- Musculoskeletal diseases
- Nervous system conditions
Researchers also revealed some patients suffer pain for years or decades after the initial burn injury, stating, “In a survey of 358 patients with severe burns, 52% of respondents reported suffering ongoing burn-related pain, despite their injuries occurring an average of 11 years prior.”
Causes of severe burn injuries
- Scalding from steam or hot liquids
- Touching hot objects
- Electrical burns
- Chemical burns
Symptoms of severe burn injuries
It’s important to understand and recognize the symptoms of a burn injury, especially a severe one, as serious burns may not be painful. Further, airway burns can be difficult to diagnose without a medical professional. Symptoms of serious burns may include:
- Blisters, whether intact or leaking fluid
- Pain, but it’s important to remember that severe burns can be painless
- Swelling and redness
- White or charred-looking skin
- Shock, including pale and clammy skin, blue lips/fingernails, and weakness
- Decrease in alertness
- Skin slippage/peeling
Symptoms of airway burns can include:
- Signs of burns on the head, face, nose, eyebrows, or nose hairs
- Burns around the lips and mouth
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing and/or wheezing
- Dark or black mucus
- Changes in voice
Treating severe burns
Treatment for a serious burn injury depends on the patient’s age and health, as well as the severity of the burn and how it occurred. The aim of the initial treatment for any burn injury, however, is to ensure the burn is clean, prevent infection, remove dead tissue, and prevent scarring as much as possible. In very severe cases, doctors may place the patient into a medically-induced coma while they try to repair the damage.
Common treatments for severe burn injuries include:
- Airway support, including oxygen tubes or a ventilator
- Chest X-rays, in the event of facial or airway burns
- Cardiac tests and IV fluids for shock, dehydration, and other complications
- Pain management medications
- Ointments and creams for pain and infection
- Immunizations if necessary; i.e., tetanus
- Skin grafts and other reconstructive surgeries
- Physical and occupational therapy
Depending on the severity of the burn, a patient could lose function in one or more limbs, or even lose vision and/or hearing. Our Minot attorneys refer to these as catastrophic injuries.
What are the first aid procedures for 2nd, 3rd, or 4th-degree burns?
If you see anyone sustain a catastrophic injury of any kind, the first thing you should do is call 9-1-1.
We understand the need to help someone with a serious burn, but the treatment for severe burns is very, very different from minor ones. After you’ve called 9-1-1:
- DO try to get the victim to a safe location.
- DO check for breathing and signs of shock. You may need to administer CPR.
- DO NOT attempt to remove clothing that is stuck to the skin. Certain materials will fuse to the body, and attempting to remove them in an oil field or on the side of the road (or anywhere that isn’t sterile) can cause more extensive damage, while also creating additional risk of infection.
- DO cut away any loose clothing and remove any jewelry, if possible.
- DO cover the victim with clean, non-adhesive dressings if you have them.
- DO try to elevate a burned body part above the heart (if the burn is contained to one area, like a leg or arm).
- DO NOT elevate the head if the burn occurred on the face or neck, or if the burn victim may have inhaled ash or embers.
- DO NOT apply ice, water, or ointments of any kind. This can cause further damage.
Help when you’re catastrophically injured in North Dakota
A catastrophic injury is one that changes your life permanently. It’s one that prevents you from performing your job the way you did before your injury, and likely prevents you from working at all. A catastrophic injury like a severe burn injury makes life different forever. When another’s negligence caused that injury, it’s important you work with a lawyer who understands the full scope of your losses – not just the initial trauma of the burn, but how it’s going to cause you pain for the rest of your life.
As mentioned earlier, about half of burn injury patients surveyed reported experiencing chronic pain over a decade after their initial injury. This is why it’s so important to ensure the insurance company understands the true extent of your burn. At Larson Law Firm, PC, our Minot attorneys work with your medical team and our network of experts to take into account the severity of your burn injury and then hold the right parties responsible. We will never settle for less than your claim is worth.
To learn more and schedule a consultation with a personal injury lawyer, call our offices today or feel free to fill out our contact form. We proudly serve Bismarck, Minot, and Fargo.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson