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Common Causes of Burn Injuries

April 22, 2024Articles

Mild burns are painful and frightening, but serious burn injuries are among the most painful and life-altering injuries a person can suffer. According to the American Burn Association, 30,135 burn victims received treatment in hospitals and burn centers in 2022. Burn injury survivors and their family members suffer devastating consequences of serious burn injuries, including widespread scarring and disfigurement, loss of range of motion, and sometimes the loss of fingers, toes, and limbs. Burns require specialized medical care including pain management, infection protection, and skin grafts for healing areas of damaged flesh.

Understanding Burn Injuries


Burn injuries occur when the flesh reacts to extreme heat, resulting in inflammation and cell death. Medical professionals use a classification system to describe the seriousness of burn injuries beginning with first-degree burns that impact only the top layer of the skin and are typically treatable at home, to second and third-degree burns that damage the second and third layers of skin with more serious consequences. Third-degree burns may also destroy all or part of the fat layer beneath the skin, sometimes requiring skin grafts to repair. Fourth and fifth-degree burns damage or destroy the fat, and muscle, and may even burn the bones. Burns of third-degree and worse are life-threatening and require treatment in specialized burn units. Treatment includes replacing fluids, removing dead tissue, careful cleaning, application of special burn ointments and antibiotics to prevent infection. When a burn damages a wide area of the body surface, the victim may require skin grafts.

Many burn victims suffer burns of varying degrees on their bodies. For instance, the center point of a burn may be a third-degree burn with second and first-degree burns surrounding it.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Burns?

Burn injuries most often occur in homes, at work, and in car accidents. The most common causes of burn injuries in the U.S. include the following:

  • Direct contact with flames causes about 46% of burn injuries
  • Scalds from hot or boiling water and other liquids cause 32% of burns
  • Around 8% of burn injuries are thermal burns resulting from contact with hot objects like a stove burner or grill
  • Electrical burns from accidental electrocution make up about 4% of burn injuries
  • About 3% of burn injuries result from chemical burns
  • 7% of burns result from the combination of remaining causes such as explosions, fireworks, and sunburns

Men are more likely to experience burn injuries than women. About 70% of burn victims requiring hospital treatment are men while the remaining 30% are women.

Children are the most common victims of scald burns from hot water while construction workers are common victims of electrocutions and chemical burns.

Burns on the face, genitals, hands, and feet are the most serious burns and may require medical care even at first and second-degree depths. Serious burn victims may also experience respiratory burns if their injuries occur in structure fires. Burns on the head, neck, face, and upper body are more likely to involve respiratory burns. Singed nose hairs may be a sign of airway burns caused by inhaling smoke, fumes, and hot air.