Causes of Burns
Burns are among the most painful and complicated injuries. They affect more than the skin. Nerves, blood vessels, muscle and bone are impacted, too. They can also affect body temperature, immune health, physical appearance and psychological well-being. The causes of burns can be categorized as:
Radio frequency energy, ultraviolet light, ionizing radiation and strong microwave energy can all cause radiation burns. Medical procedures such as fluoroscopy can also burn skin – severely in some cases. Radiation burns are often accompanied by thermal (heat) burns.
These burns are often linked to radiation therapy. This is a common treatment for cancer. Radiotherapy causes hair loss, swelling and skin problems.
Radiation is also given off by some medical imaging procedures. When skin is burnt by a medical procedure, the condition is often called radiation dermatitis, or radiodermatitis.
The depth of a burn depends on the type of radiation. Beta waves create shallow burns. The skin becomes brown, often called a nuclear tan. Itching, burning and blisters are commonly present. Skin lesions may form after days or weeks.
Gamma rays cause much deeper and more intense burns. Gamma rays produce Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS). This is also known as radiation poisoning. ARS can cause skin disease, gastrointestinal problems and death.
Thermal burns are the most common type of burn injury. They are caused by exposure to extreme heat (above 115 degrees Fahrenheit). They can occur in a number of different ways.
It is estimated that nearly 45 percent of burns are caused by fire or flame. Nine percent are caused by touching hot objects and 33 percent are due to scalding.
Thermal burns occur most often at home and at work. They are most commonly the result of smoking or heating devices.
Flash, flame, scalds and contact burns fall within the category of thermal burns.
Flash burns involve an explosion of natural gas, propane, gasoline or other flammable liquids. The burn is caused by exposure to intense heat for a very brief period of time.
A flame burn involves house fires, flammable liquids, automobile accidents or ignited flammable clothing. It causes burns due to prolonged exposure to intense heat.
Scalds are burns caused by contact with hot liquids (water, oil, grease or tar).
Temperature determines how much damage a burn will do. The hotter the fire or hot object is, the more problems it can cause. The duration of exposure is also a major factor. The longer the body is exposed to heat, the deeper heat can penetrate.
Flame, steam, hot metals, hot oil or grease, hot liquids, heaters and flammable liquids are common external sources of thermal burns.
Inhalation burns result from inhalation of vapors, smoke, harmful gases and particulate matter contained in smoke. Inhalation injuries are not as visible as burns to the epidermis, but they can be equally detrimental.
Common indications of an inhalation burn are:
- Fainting/loss of consciousness
- Evidence of respiratory compromise or airway obstruction
- Soot present around the nose and mouth
- Singed nasal hairs, eyelashes and eyebrows
- Neck or facial burns.
Electrical burns are a serious problem at home and in the workplace.
Electrical burns happen when electricity passes through the body. They occur because the body provides resistance against electricity, causing heat to build up. They typically cause most damage below the skin but can also create entrance and exit wounds.
Injuries caused by electricity result from electric current flowing from the source throughout the body and causing a severe exit wound. Electrical burns are rarer than burns from fire. However, because they cause internal injuries, they can be more serious. Electrical injuries can shock the brain, strain the heart and damage other organs.
Electrical burns are often the result of touching a live wire. They can also be caused by an electrical device that short-circuits. Children are often electrocuted when they put their finger or an object in an electrical socket. Lightning is one of the most common causes of electrical burns, but victims can also suffer injuries when they get too close to radio or TV base-station broadcasting antennas.
In addition to the source of the electricity, there are factors that determine the extent of injuries. These factors include:
- The pathway that the electricity takes.
Victims may suffer additional injuries if the electrical shock throws them.
Electrical burns are typically classified as:
- Low-voltage burns – When an electrical current is 500 volts or less, a burn may be considered low voltage. These burns often only cause damage to the skin but can be more serious.
- High-voltage burns – These burns are more severe. Most of the damage they cause happens under the skin.
- Arc burns – These burns can happen without contact. The air becomes ionized, and the current jumps into the victim. These events can be explosive, often sending the victim flying. Metal and clothing can be vaporized by an electrical arc.
- Oral electrical burns – These are electrical burns occurring in the mouth. They are more frequent in children because children are more likely to put wires in their mouths.
Victims of electrical burns often have wounds on their skin. Typically, there is a point-of-entry wound, which may become leathery and depressed. The exit wound tends to be more explosive. The damage in-between the two wounds is usually the most serious, but it can be hard to measure and diagnose.
Electrocution tends to cause damage to the blood vessels because they provide the easiest path for electricity. Electrical current can also cause a victim’s muscles to contract. This often leads to bones becoming fractured or dislocated. Seizures and heart attacks are also responses to electrocution. Electrical burns can cause nerve damage and kidney failure.
Most of the products we encounter each day are designed to be safe and will never hurt us. Unfortunately, there are still some products that are extremely dangerous. We must take extra precaution when using them.
Many of the chemicals we use in our bathrooms can be toxic. They are capable of burning our skin if we are exposed to them. Chemical burns can happen at work, at home or on someone else’s property.
Chemical burns from corrosive substances make up nearly five percent of all burns. This type of burn is typically caused by exposure to acids or bases and can occur with or without heat. The burn may result in immediate pain, or its results may be delayed.
Sometimes, chemical burns are not painful at all, but they can still cause serious damage to the skin. Additionally, a chemical burn can occur below the skin’s surface without damaging outer layers of the skin.
Chemical burns occur when the skin comes into contact with strong alkaloids or acids. The severity of the damage caused by the chemical depends on the length and time of exposure, which is why it is important to wash off the chemical as soon as possible after skin contact.
Some of the most common causes of acid burns are:
- Hydrochloric acid – Used in cleaning
- Hydrofluoric acid – Used for industrial and cleaning purposes
- Sulfuric acid – Found in many cleaning products
- Nitric acid –Used in industry.
The alkalis (bases) that most commonly cause burns are:
- Sodium hypochlorite and calcium hypochlorite – Used in pools
- Phosphates and Ammonia
- Sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide – Used for cleaning drains.
Chemical burns can also be caused by substances such as reducing agents, solvents and oxidizers. The chemicals that are released when an airbag deploys in a car accident can also cause alkaline burns. Household beauty supplies and cosmetics can burn the skin as well. Makeup, perfume, hair dye, baby lotions, moisturizers and deodorants are just some of the many types of beauty products that can cause chemical burns.
Different chemicals produce very different results when they interact with our skin. Pain and numbness are both typical reactions. Itching and burning are also common. The skin may either darken or become bleached in appearance. If the substance has been inhaled, breathing problems may occur. Skin in the airway may come loose, and alveoli can collapse. Victims may also cough up blood.
Some symptoms may not appear for hours or days after exposure. In other cases, the symptoms may be immediate, and the reaction may be hard to stop.
Flushing with water is recommended for nearly all chemical burns, but it is not always totally effective at stopping the reaction from occurring.
Symptoms can also vary depending on whether the victim is burned by a base or an acid. Acids tend to eat through the outer layer of skin and create a hardened barrier (coagulation necrosis), which prevents further exposure and damage. Bases tend to liquefy the flesh and can be harder to stop.
The damage from a chemical burn also depends on other factors such as:
- Type of contact
- Length of contact
- Concentration of the chemical.
Reactions with solids and liquids may be different. Inhalation or swallowing can create serious medical problems.
When most people think of burns, they think of fire or the injuries caused by touching something hot. Unfortunately, there are many other ways to suffer a burn injury.
Victims of road rash or friction burns are often as seriously injured as victims of electrical burns or chemical burns. Friction burn injuries are the result of the skin rubbing against a surface. Rug burn, carpet burn, and rope burn are all common forms of friction burns.
Friction burns create large areas of raw skin, often with nerves exposed. This is extremely painful and leaves the skin open to infection. Friction burns often occur on the job.
Road rash is a common term to describe friction burns affecting motorcycle riders. When the victim of a motorcycle accident falls off of his or her motorcycle, they may slide across the road for a long distance. This sliding can rip off layers of skin like a cheese-grater.
While less common, burns can also occur during surgical procedures.
For example, an electrical spark from a surgical tool can set off a fire, or thermal burns during electrosurgery can occur around the surgical site.
Electrosurgery involves cutting tissue and controlling bleeding using an electric current. When the tools involved in these types of surgeries are not properly insulated so the electricity is directed solely to the operating tip, patients are at risk of being burned.
Cosmetic Product Burns
Every day, we use a variety of bath and body products. Soaps, shampoos, cleansers, conditioners and makeup are only a small number of the many products that people use to take care of their bodies. Some of these cosmetics or bath products can cause burns or reactions when they contact the skin.
Certain products or chemicals actually damage the skin (irritant contact dermatitis) while others cause allergic reactions (allergic contact dermatitis).
Cosmetic products do not go through the same rigorous testing that medications must pass through. This means that certain chemicals are allowed to be sold to the public even though they can cause damage to the skin. These chemicals or ingredients can eat away at the skin or cause physical reactions.
The most obvious symptom of irritant contact dermatitis is a rash which can develop immediately or any time in the days following exposure. Damaged skin may have the same symptoms as a thermal burn. In addition to pain, there is often redness, itching and stinging.
Blisters may develop, and the skin often oozes. This raw, exposed skin often becomes infected if not treated properly. Damage is usually the worst in areas where the skin is thin such as the eyelids. Areas where skin is cracked are also more susceptible to burns.
In some cases, sensitivity may develop over time. Products that did not cause a reaction at first may cause a reaction after months or weeks of use.
There are thousands of chemicals and ingredients in the cosmetics and products that we use. A wide variety of them can cause skin irritation or other damage.
Some of the products that most commonly cause burns are:
- Eye makeup
- Lip stains
- Fingernail glue
- Nail polish
- Hair dyes
- Retin-A wrinkle creams
- Permanent wave lotion containing glyceryl monothioglycolate
Certain ingredients that are particularly likely to cause burns include alpha-hydroxy acids (which cause blistering), sodium lauryl sulfate, p-phenylenediamine and ammonium persulfate.
Contact a New Jersey Burn Injury Lawyer for Legal Help
Determining the cause of a burn injury and who should be held responsible can be a highly complex process. This is why you should seek help from a lawyer who has the skill, experience and resources to handle these types of cases.
A burn injury lawyer from Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., can review your case in a free consultation and help you to assess whether you have a valid claim. The attorney can also answer all of your questions and explain your legal options as you move forward.
To schedule your consultation, call us today at (800) LAW-2000 or submit our online form. We help burn injury victims and their families throughout New Jersey and New York.