In 2016, nearly half a million people in the U.S. were admitted to hospitals or treated in emergency rooms for burn injuries, reports the American Burn Association. Nearly two-thirds of those incidents occurred in the home, and about 40,000 people were hospitalized for their injuries.
Even a small burn injury from touching a hot pan can be very painful. Now, imagine more severe burns over a wider portion of the skin. Known as thermal burns – as opposed to electrical, chemical or electromagnetic burns – they cause cells to die and are rated by severity. Causes may include explosions, flames, hot liquids or touching things like hot glass or coals. With a first-degree burn, generally there is superficial redness, pain and light blistering. Second-degree burns occur when the skin’s outer layer is damaged as well as the tissue underneath, with blisters forming and skin thickening. Third-degree burns reach into the deepest layers of skin and below. (Technically there is also a fourth-degree burn – the most severe – which affects tendons and bones.)
CaseyGerry has handled a number of cases in which our clients have sustained major injuries from burns. In one case, a young man was injured while sledding in Lake Tahoe. Little did he know, the U.S. Forest Service had left an unmarked hot pile of ashes from a controlled burn three days earlier. Two nights later snow fell, covering the pile but not extinguishing it. The next day while out with his friends, he stopped his sled in one of the hidden “hot ash pits.” He sustained severe burns, required a skin graft and will forever have a numb ankle and feet because his nerves were burned off.
In another case we just settled, the client spilled hot tea – served so hot by a cafe that she has second and third-degree burns on her thigh that are permanently discolored. This incident was similar to an older case settled for just under $1 million against a major airline. In that case, tea – served to a minor without a lid by an airline attendant – was also the culprit. She suffered severe second-degree injuries to her thigh resulting in permanent scarring. The water was taken directly from a hot water dispenser at a temperature well above what an expert said hot beverages should be served.
While proper treatment of burns can lessen the lasting impacts, improper treatment cannot only cause more immediate pain but also larger injury. In the case of the young girl, EMTs at the airport put gauze over the wound that stuck to the burn and caused her severe pain when the burn specialist tried to remove it.
Because the risk of infection is so high in burn injuries, it is critical to seek treatment as quickly as possible from a burn specialist. Care varies depending on the type of burn. First-degree burns can generally be treated at home by washing with cool – not cold – water, use of antibacterial soap and antibiotic ointment. Wrap loosely with sterile gauze.