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Burns: Overview and Risk Factors

Burn injuries are among the leading causes of accidental death. Every year, more than 1 million people in the United States suffer burn injuries, and approximately 50,000 people require hospitalization. Hospital stays may be long–term and may involve multiple surgical procedures.

Serious burns are complex injuries that may affect skin, muscles, tendons, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. Skin damage impairs the body's normal fluid and chemical balance, heat regulation, and ability to fight infection. Long–term effects include diminished muscle and joint function and physical appearance. Involvement of the respiratory system can lead to airway obstruction and death. Even minor burns can worsen diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Patients may suffer long–lasting emotional, sexual, and psychological problems.

Risk Factors

  • Careless smoking: Cigarettes are the leading cause of house fires.
  • Absent or nonfunctioning smoke detectors: The presence of a functioning smoke detector decreases risk of death by fire by 60 percent.
  • Use of wood stoves
  • Age: Children under 4 who are poorly supervised are at particular risk.
  • Gender: Males are more than twice as likely to suffer burn injuries.
  • Exposed heating sources or electrical cords
  • Unsafe storage of flammable or caustic materials
  • Water heaters set above 120°F
  • Microwave heated foods and containers
  • Substandard or older housing
  • Substance abuse: Use of alcohol and illegal drugs increases risk.


Burns: Diagnosis and Treatment >>