Overview: What is a burn?
The information in this section has been gathered from existing peer-reviewed and other literature and has been reviewed by expert dermatologists on the CSPA Medical Advisory Board.
A burn is a type of skin injury that occurs when the skin or other tissue is damaged by coming in contact with:
- Chemicals, such as acids or alkalis (pronounced al-ka-lies)
- Very hot surfaces, liquids, foods, air or steam
- Radiation, such as overexposure to x-rays and sunlight
- Hard surfaces, causing a friction burn
Although the skin is usually the area that is burned, the tissues underneath and internal organs can also be affected. Health-care professionals determine the severity of a burn based on how deep it goes and how much of the body it covers: the deeper and more widespread a burn is, the more serious it is. Burns are generally categorized as first, second, third or fourth degree. Many burns are superficial and, although painful, heal quickly and easily. However, very severe burns can be life-threatening and cause significant scarring.
The medical community also categorizes the extent of burns using a unit known as total body surface area (TBSA). For example, someone with burns on one arm and hand is said to have a 10 per cent TBSA burn. A burn covering one leg and foot is classified as a 20 per cent TBSA burn.
- More than 3200 people were admitted to Canadian hospitals for burns in 2005-2006, when the latest statistics are available.
- Most of these burns were caused by hot substances (such as water, steam or chemicals).
- Adults aged 40 to 49 are the most likely to be admitted to hospital, followed by children.
- Men are twice as likely as women to be severely burned.
- Children’s skin is thinner and burns four times more quickly and deeply than an adult’s skin. Their rapid physical growth means they also scar more easily.
- Between 1994 and 2003, over 10,000 children aged 0 to 19 years were admitted to a Canadian hospital with burn injuries.
- People who are burned spend an average of 14 days in hospital. This number jumps to 27 days for those with severe burns.