The Four Most Common Burns



Sunburns are an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV). UV is found in sunlight but can also be encountered in artificial sources such as tanning beds and sunlamps. The human body protects itself from UV by producing the chemical ‘Melanin’. Once an individual’s melanin production peaks, the UV rays will cause sunburns, resulting in redness, pain, and swelling.

Sunburn Facts:

  • Over 50% of adults in the U.S. say they have had at least one sunburn in the past year
  • It takes 3-5 hours after you get burned for redness to develop
  • 10 minutes is all it takes to start burning in the sun
  • Overexposure to sunlight is most damaging for individuals 18 and under
  • On average, Florida has the highest UV index in the United States

What Causes a Sunburn?

  • Overexposure to direct sunlight, which happens when UV rays from the sun directly come into contact with the skin
  • Overexposure to indirect sunlight, which happen when UV rays from the sun are reflected by sand or water
  • Not using enough sunscreen
  • Spending extended amounts of time outside while under the influence of alcohol
  • Lengthy tanning bed usage

Electric Burns


Electric burns happen when electricity comes in contact with or passes through the body, resulting in a burn. An example of an electric burn would be receiving a burn from inserting a metal object into an electric socket.

Electric Burn Facts:

  • Electric burn injuries account for 1000 deaths each year in the United States
  • Out of approximately 450,000 patients who received treatment for burns annually, only 4% were electrical burns
  • Roughly 50% of all electric burns are caused by direct contact with power lines
  • Individuals working in professions such as electrical repair, cable servicing, and construction are at much higher risk for electrical burns
  • Most damage caused by electric burns happens beneath the surface of the skin and shows no evidence a burn has occurred
  • In severe cases, electrical burns can cause a shock to the brain and injure additional organs

Electrical Burn Classification

There are 6 categories of electric burns:

  • Low Voltage Burn: To classify as a low voltage burn, the power source producing the burn must be 500 volts or less. These can be categorized as either first or second-degree burns since little to no tissue damage occurs at this point.
  • High Voltage Burn: To classify as a high voltage burn, the electrical source of the burn must be greater than 600 volts. During this severe burn, high voltage electricity runs through the body, causing damage to deeper tissue.
  • Arc Burn: When an arc burn occurs, electrical energy passes from a high resistance area to a low resistance area. It is important to note that bodily contact is not required with an arc burn because the electricity ionizes air particles to complete the circuit.
  • Flash Burn: To be classified as a flash burn an electrical arc must pass over the skin, in turn causing severe burn in a fraction of a second. These burns will typically only occur when the AC current’s frequency is higher than the 60 Hz.
  • Flame Burn: A flame burn will occur when contact is made to an object ignited by an electrical source. Notably, this is often a result of an additional electrical burn such as an arc burn or flash burn.
  • Oral Burn: Oral burns, which are most common amongst children, are caused by biting or sucking on electrical cords or electrically charged objects.

What Causes an Electrical Burn?

  • Inserting fingers or metal objects into electrical sockets
  • Touching appliances with wet hands
  • Making bodily contact with electrified water
  • Lightning
  • Touching electrically live objects
  • Short-circuiting

Thermal Burns


Thermal burns result from making contact with very hot objects and substances. The intensity of a thermal burn can vary between first degree, second degree, third degree, and fourth degree.

Thermal Burn Facts:

  • 44% of all admissions to burn centers result from fire or flame burns
  • Scalding is the most common burn injury in children under four years old, accounting for 200,000 injuries per year.

The 3 Types of Thermal Burns:

The most common causes of thermal burns can be classified by 3 different groups:

  • Hot Liquids / Steam: Thermal burns caused by hot liquid and steam are referred to as scalds and are most commonly suffered by children. Scalds are often a result of using shower and bathwater that is above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, spilling hot liquid, steam from hot food and boiling water, and making skin contact with hot oil
  • Fire: The most common burns involving fire are often the result of children touching a candle, fireworks, and making contact with a wildfire.
  • Hot objects: Similar to the other causes of burns, thermal burns caused by hot objects are most common in children and often happen in the kitchen. Specific sources of hot object burns are ashes and coal, frying pans and pots, oven containers, exhaust pipes, and light bulbs.

Chemical Burns


Chemical burns, also known as caustic burns, are burns that are a result of strong acids or bases and can affect both the skin and internal organs.

Chemical Burn Facts:

  • At least 25,000 chemical products can cause chemical skin injury
  • Roughly 50% of all chemical burn injuries are work related while the remaining 50% typically occur at home

What Common Chemicals Can Cause Burns?

Many household items and products are prone to cause chemical burns, with the most common items being:

  • Pool chlorine
  • Bleach
  • Ammonia
  • Teeth whitening products
  • Denture cleaners
  • Car battery acid


Mayo Clinic
Wikipedia - Electrical burn
Wikipedia - Thermal burn
Liao and Rossignol 2000. Liao C-C, Rossignol AM. 2000. Landmarks in burn prevention. Burns. 26:422–434.