Determining the Seriousness of a Burn
British Columbia Specific Information
Burns can be serious injuries. If you have a serious burn injury, call 9-1-1 right away. For more information, or if you are not sure if you should contact a health care provider, call 8-1-1.
According to the World Health Organization, a burn is considered serious if it:
- covers more than 15% of the body surface of an adult;
- covers more than 10% of the body surface of a child;
- involves someone who is very young, elderly, in poor health, or who has a pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes;
- is a third degree burn;
- occurs on your face, hands, feet or genitals;
- encircles your leg or arm; or
- is associated with trauma.
Smoke inhalation is also a serious injury and requires medical attention right away. For more information, see the World Health Organization handout on the Management of Burns.
The seriousness of a burn is determined by:
- The depth of the burn (first-, second-, third-,
- First-degree burns are burns of the first layer of skin
- Second-degree burns. There are two types of second-degree burns:
- Third-degree burns (full-thickness burns) injure all the skin layers and tissue under the skin. These burns always require medical treatment.
- Fourth-degree burns extend through the skin to injure muscle, ligaments, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and bones. These burns always require medical treatment.
- The size of the burn.
- The cause (thermal, electrical, chemical, radiation, or friction).
- The part of the body where the burn occurred.
- The age and health of the burn victim.
- Other injuries.
What to think about
It is important to watch for signs of infection during the healing of any burn.
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015
Current as of: November 20, 2015
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