The Long-Term Complications of Serious Burn Injuries

Long-Term Complications of Burn InjuriesSerious burn injuries can have profound and life-altering consequences, often leading to complications that persist throughout a person’s lifetime. Beyond the immediate physical impact, burn injuries can result in long-term challenges, affecting both the physical and psychological well-being of individuals. From extensive scarring to potential impairments in mobility and functionality, the aftermath of severe burns demands comprehensive care and support. Understanding the complexities and long-lasting effects of burn injuries is crucial in developing effective strategies for rehabilitation, both medical and emotional, to enhance the quality of life for those who have experienced such traumatic events.

What is considered a serious burn?

A serious burn is typically classified based on the extent and depth of the injury to the skin and underlying tissues. Burns are often categorized into degrees, with each degree indicating a different level of severity.

Less severe burn injuries include:

  • First-degree burn.
    • Superficial burn that affects only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis).
    • Symptoms include redness, pain, and minor swelling.
    • Generally heals within a week without scarring.
  • Second-degree burn.
    • Affects both the outer layer (epidermis) and part of the underlying layer (dermis) of the skin.
    • Symptoms include redness, pain, swelling, and the formation of blisters.
    • May take several weeks to heal and may leave some scarring.

Severe burn injuries include:

  • Third-degree burn.
    • Destroys the entire thickness of the skin, reaching the underlying tissues.
    • Often appears white or charred.
    • Nerve endings may be damaged, so the burn area might not be painful.
    • Requires medical attention, often involving skin grafts for healing.
  • Fourth-degree burn.
    • Extends beyond the skin, affecting muscles, tendons, and bones.
    • Severe damage that requires immediate medical attention.
    • Often requires extensive medical intervention, including surgery.

The severity of a burn is also assessed by the total body surface area (TBSA) affected. Burns covering a larger percentage of the body are generally considered more serious. Additionally, burns to certain areas, such as the face, hands, feet, genitalia, or major joints, are often treated as more critical due to potential complications and functional impairment. Always seek prompt medical attention for serious burns to ensure appropriate care and treatment.

What are the long-term complications of serious burns?

Serious burn injuries may heal over at the site of the injury, but the damage they leave behind can cause life-long complications that affect a person’s everyday life. These complications can affect multiple systems of the body and may require ongoing medical management and rehabilitation.

Some notable long-term complications associated with serious burn injuries include:

  • Hypertrophic scarring, keloid formation, and contractures
    • Deep partial thickness and full-thickness burns can result in hypertrophic scarring, characterized by raised, red scars that may cause pain and limit movement. Keloid formation, where excessive scar tissue extends beyond the original wound, is another concern. Joint contractures, the tightening of muscles and tissues, can occur, affecting range of motion. These complications often necessitate ongoing physical therapy and, in some cases, surgical intervention.
  • Functional impairments and disability
    • Depending on the location and severity of the burn, functional impairments and disability may persist. Limb function, dexterity, and mobility can be compromised, impacting the individual’s ability to perform daily activities. Rehabilitation programs play a crucial role in optimizing functional outcomes and promoting independence.
  • Psychological impact
    • Serious burn injuries can have profound psychological effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and altered body image. Coping with the visible and functional changes resulting from burns may require long-term psychological support, counseling, and interventions to address mental health challenges.
  • Chronic pain
    • Chronic pain is a common long-term complication of severe burns. Nerve damage, scar tissue, and ongoing inflammation can contribute to persistent pain. Management strategies may include medications, physical therapy, and other pain management techniques.
  • Respiratory complications
    • Inhalation injuries sustained during the burn incident can lead to chronic respiratory issues. Long-term complications may include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis, or other respiratory conditions. Ongoing respiratory care and monitoring are essential.
  • Joint and bone complications
    • Burns can affect the musculoskeletal system, leading to conditions such as heterotrophic ossification, where abnormal bone forms in soft tissue, and joint contractures. These complications may require ongoing orthopedic care and interventions.
  • Gastrointestinal and nutritional issues
    • Paralytic ileus, Curling’s ulcer, and other gastrointestinal complications can persist. Maintaining proper nutrition is crucial for healing and preventing complications. Nutritional support and monitoring may be necessary in the long term.
  • Cardiovascular effects
    • Severe burns can impact the cardiovascular system, leading to changes in blood vessel function and increased risk of cardiovascular events. Long-term monitoring of cardiovascular health is important, and lifestyle modifications may be recommended.
  • Renal complications
    • Myoglobinuria, a condition where myoglobin from damaged muscles enters the urine, can contribute to kidney injury. Long-term monitoring of renal function and management of potential complications are essential.
  • Social and occupational challenges
    • Individuals with serious burn injuries may face social and occupational challenges. Stigma, discrimination, and difficulties in returning to work or daily activities can impact the quality of life. Supportive social services and vocational rehabilitation may be necessary.

Comprehensive and multidisciplinary care, involving plastic surgeons, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and other specialists, is crucial in addressing the long-term complications of serious burn injuries. Individualized treatment plans and ongoing support contribute to better outcomes and improved quality of life for survivors.

Burn injuries can happen almost anywhere – from car accidents, to accidents at work, to accidents in your kitchen. When these burns are severe, your life can be changed forever. Too often, these injuries are caused by someone else’s negligence: a distracted driver crashing into you at an intersection, lack of proper protective gear offered by your employer, and a defective oven produced by a neglectful manufacturer. In these cases, it’s important to know your rights. You deserve rightful compensation for your personal injuries, current and future.

At Soroka & Associates, our Columbus burn injury attorneys are here to help you. We understand how scarring a burn injury can be, and how it can continue to affect your life long after the initial injury has healed. If you have suffered a severe burn, schedule a free consultation with us by calling our Columbus office, or use our contact page. We proudly serve clients throughout central Ohio.