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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 require hospitalization. Hospital stays may be long–term and may involve multiple surgical procedures.

Burns can result from thermal, chemical, and electrical injuries. Each type is treated differently, as described below.

Serious burns are complex injuries affecting skin, muscles, tendons, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. Skin damage impairs the body's normal fluid and electrolyte balance, thermal regulation, and ability to fight infection. Long–term effects include diminished muscle and joint function, and impaired manual dexterity. Involvement of the respiratory system can lead to airway obstruction and respiratory failure and arrest. Burns can also cause permanent disfigurement and concomitant sexual and psychological problems.

Risk Factors

African American children in Ohio had nearly 8 times the burn risk, compared with white children in a recent study.1

Additional risk factors include:

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


Burns: Diagnosis >>