Burn Injury

What is a burn?

Our skin is the body's biggest organ and has many functions including moderating our temperature, retaining and maintaining fluid levels in the body, protects us from bacteria and infections and is responsible for gathering sensory information.

The skin consists of two distinct layers; the Epidermis (provides protection from injury, holds in fluids and protects the nerves from too much stimulation), and the Dermis (contains the capillaries, hair follicles, nerves cells and sweat glands).

Underneath the dermis lies the padding layers of Subcutaneous Tissue which separates the skin from deeper muscular and bony structures. These layers provide important cushioning from trauma.

Burns are an injury to any layer of the skin and are caused by extreme heat or cold, contact with electricity, chemicals, friction or radiation.

Burn Injury in Australia

  • is the third most common serious injury in the 'social' category in Australia
  • is the third highest cause of accidental death in children under the age of five
  • 200,000 Australians suffer a burn injury each year
  • 65% of burn injuries happen in the home environment
  • Aboriginal people, living in remote locations, are 23% more likely to suffer a burn injury than people living in metropolitan areas
  • costs the community over $150 million per year

Effects of Burn Injury

The implications of a severe burn injury can have a major impact beyond the individual to their friends and family. Immediate hospitalisation for a severe burn injury can be anywhere between 1 week and 3-4 months with ongoing weekly treatment for dressings and further recovery time needed at home.

A deep burn can cause the skin to scar, which, if over a large area can require ongoing operations to release contractures (skin contracting) or to cosmetically enhance the skin’s appearance.

A burn in a young person will also affect parents and family members. Support for the ongoing treatments eg travel and time away from normal routines can be draining on the family and may impact on parents’ working lives and ability to continue with normal routines.

The skin, which has been damaged even to a partial thickness burn injury, loses its ability to stretch, sweat, control its temperature and safely absorb sunlight this is due to the destruction of the sweat glands, hair follicles, nerve endings and melanin which are all located in the epidermis and dermis, the two outer layers of skin. This can greatly restrict mobility and also means that, as the young person grows and develops, the damaged skin will not grow and stretch with the body causing contractures. Ongoing surgery is required to release the skin and graft new skin into the area.

Scarring, especially if visible on the hands, face, neck or arms can greatly affect self image, resulting in low confidence and low self-esteem. This has the potential become a barrier to participation in social activities, particularly for young people.

Superficial Thickness

Affects the outer layer or epidermis. Common symptoms include localised redness and pain.

Partial Thickness

Affects the second layer of skin or the dermis. Symptoms include blisters, clear fluid emitting from the site and localised pain or with a whitish appearance for a deeper burn and deeper damage. This burn may have limited associated pain due to damage to the blood vessels and nerve endings.

Full Thickness

Often leaves a hard leather-like eschar, purple fluid and no or little pain due to the depth of damage. Skin may appear whitish or black depending on the type of burn.


Burn Depths Skin Model

Superficial, Partial and Full thickness Burn Depths

In an emergency call 000
Remove any clothing and jewellery from the affected area to allow effective cooling of the burn.
Cool the burn under cool running water for 20 minutes - this will stop the burning process and also help ease the pain.
Cover the burn with a clean lint free cloth or if it is a large area, cover loosely with cling wrap to lessen the chance of infection.
Seek medical advice if the burn is larger than a 20 cent piece or on the face, hands, feet or groin area.