The Complications of Burn Injuries
Burns are some of the most common types of injuries. If you have had a mild sunburn or a reaction to a strong chemical like bleach, or if you have touched a hot pan while cooking, you have likely sustained a first-degree burn before.
But just because something is common does not mean it is not serious.
A burn injury – even a mild one – can lead to complications that are potentially life-threatening. This is why you should always seek medical attention for a burn, and why you may end up needing the help of an experienced injury attorney if your burn was the result of someone else’s negligence.
What are the degrees of burns?
There are four degrees of burns, which are classified by degree. Each increasing degree indicates a more severe and damaging type of burn.
- First-degree burns – The outer layer of the skin is reddened, but non-blistered. An example of first-degree burns include mild sunburns.
- Second-degree burns – The outer and lower layer of the skin shows blisters and a thickening of reddened skin. Examples of second-degree burns include exposing skin to very hot water, brief encounters with flames, severe sunburn, and light electrical or chemical burns.
- Third-degree burns – The skin shows extensive thickening with a white, leathery, or charred appearance. Examples of third-degree burns include heat coming into contact with the skin for a prolonged period of time, fire, scalding or boiling water, severe electrical or chemical burns, and severe friction burns.
- Fourth-degree burns. These are the most dangerous burns of all. Most of the time, they are fatal. Fourth-degree burns reach into the bones and tendons, and the affected limb will almost certainly need to be amputated.
Burns can also be classified by their root cause, the most common of which include:
- Scalding (steam burns)
What are the complications of burn injuries?
Most common, everyday burns are minor and heal on their own without treatment other than running cool water over the burned skin, and maybe applying a little burn cream for the pain. However, with second-, third-, and (potentially) fourth-degree burns, if they are not treated properly, new medical conditions can arise. Some of these include:
- Acute compartment syndrome. This is a buildup of pressure caused by swelling or internal bleeding. It can reduce the flow of blood to the muscles and nerves, causing tissue death.
- Burn scar contracture. If a burn patient develops contracture (the thickening and tightening of scars over time) over a joint, it can then lead to a decreased range of motion and decreased mobility and use of the limb. If the contracture happens to scars over the chest, ribcage, or lungs, then that can lead to respiratory distress. Surgery is the only remedy for this.
- One of the most common burn complications there is, infections are the “leading cause of death after extensive burn injuries. Multiple studies over the last decade have shown that 42%–65% of deaths in burn victims are attributable to infection,” as research published in Clinical Infectious Diseases shows. Common infections include sepsis, which is a dangerous infection of the blood stream.
- Hypovolemia: This condition is the severe loss of fluid from the body resulting from moisture being pulled from the skin and tissues as it is burned. “As a result, cardiac output falls and clinical manifestations of shock ensue.”
- Severely low body temperature (hypothermia): Patients with severe burns are open to suffering from hypothermia as the damage and loss of the skin removes a major component used in regulating the body’s temperature.
- Breathing problems: Inhaling smoke can worsen asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), though the effects might not be permanent. “In some cases, extreme smoke inhalation can cause asthma that is triggered by future exposures to smoke.”
- Disfigurement: Severe burns can cause disfiguring scars or ridged areas on the skin caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue (keloids).
- PTSD/mental and emotional trauma: One of the most common psychological complications seen after severe burn injuries is depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety.
- Skin cancer: While sunburns are only a first-degree burn, it can leave lasting damage that may cause harm later in life. “Sunburn accelerates skin aging and is a leading cause in the majority of cases of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.”
- Amputation: A severe burn may lead to necessary amputation of an appendage or limb.
Who is liable for a burn injury?
If your burn injury was the result of someone else’s negligence, you could be entitled to compensation for the damages you sustain. For example, if the burn is the result of a defective battery in your headphones or your vape pen, the manufacturer of that defective product may be liable. If it is the result of a fire or gas explosion, the property owner may be liable. If your injury was caused in a collision with another vehicle, that driver may be liable for your injuries. It is also possible that multiple parties could share liability. It all depends on the exact nature of your case.
If you have suffered burn injuries because of someone else’s negligence, our Richmond catastrophic injury lawyers are here to help you seek compensation for your losses. These serious injuries leave you with scars, both physical and mental, and if someone else is responsible for your injuries, they are liable for damages like medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We are skilled and hardworking, and we will get you the compensation you deserve. Call Phelan Petty at 804-980-7100 to schedule your free consultation or use our contact form. Proudly serving Virginia.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.