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Degrees of Burn Injury

woman holding a girl's burnt hand under a tap of water

A burn injury may lead to extensive medical treatment and prevent one from being able to work for a prolonged period – if at all. The injury may also cause significant pain and suffering as well as emotional distress.

The extent of physical, mental and financial harm will depend on the severity, or degree, of the burn injury. Generally, burn injuries fall into four categories:

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are also known as “superficial” burns. These burns involve slight damage to the outer layer of the skin, or epidermis. The impacted area may appear red and dry or turn white when pressed. Even though the injury may be painful, a first-degree burn is the least severe type of burn. It typically heals in a short amount of time and does not leave any scars.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns are referred to as either “superficial partial thickness” or “deep partial thickness” burns. These burns penetrate the second layer of skin tissue, or dermis. These burns typically are marked by red or yellow discoloration, swelling and blisters.

If the burn extends to the superficial dermis, it may be extremely painful. Even though the burn itself may take only a few weeks to heal and not result in scarring, the burn may lead to complications such as cellulitis, which is a type of bacterial skin infection.

If the burn reaches deeper, it could lead to contractures. This is the tightening of skin, muscle and other soft tissue that restricts movement. The burn is likely to result in scarring. Recovery may take several weeks or months. The victim may require debridement (removal of dead tissue) or a skin graft (replacement of damaged skin with skin taken from another part of the body).

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are commonly called “full thickness” burns. With these burns, the damage reaches the level of fat under the dermis. The impacted area may appear white, stiff and/or leathery. Because the nerves in the burned area have been destroyed, the victim may experience numbness instead of pain.

One who suffers a third-degree burn will have a long road to recovery. The injury commonly will require a skin graft. A decision may also need to be made on whether to amputate a severely burned limb or extremity. Undergoing an amputation can be a traumatic experience, and the aftermath will involve extensive therapy and rehabilitation. However, in many burn injury cases, an amputation may be needed to prevent infection and save the victim’s life.

Fourth-Degree Burns

A fourth-degree burn is a potentially fatal injury. This occurs when the damage reaches into muscle, tendons and bones. The victim’s skin may have a blackened or charred appearance. Because of the extensive nerve damage, the victim may have no feeling or movement in the affected area.

The treatment of burns that fall within this category is similar to what is provided for third-degree burn injury victims. Due to the severity of the injury, treatment may initially focus more on addressing life-threatening complications than on treating the wound.

Contact a Burn Injury Attorney Serving New York State

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious burn injury due to the negligent or reckless conduct of another, an attorney from Powers & Santola, LLP, can provide a thorough review of your case. We can work with medical experts, rehabilitation specialists, life care planners and economists to arrive at an accurate assessment of the full financial impact of the harm that has been suffered.

Our attorneys assist burn injury victims and their families in Albany, Syracuse and throughout the state of New York. Contact us today and receive a consultation about your case.

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