Burns are injuries to the body’s soft tissues caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, friction, or radiation. In the United States, fire and hot liquids are the most common causes of burns.
Burns caused by contact with flame or hot liquids are said to be thermal, that is, they are caused by exposure in some way to a heat source that caused tissue damage. A wide variety of chemicals can cause chemical burns, most commonly strong acids or bases. Electrical burns occur when the body comes into contact with electrically live objects or short circuits with an electrical current. Electrical burns generally cause more damage under the skin than other common types of burns. Radiation burns include burns associated with ionizing radiation, as well ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light burns are more familiarly termed ‘sun burns.’
Regardless of the mechanism of a burn, the damage done to the body is described in terms of degree, which in order of increasing severity are: first, second, third, and fourth degree.
First degree burns are typically considered minor burns and do not extend past the first layer of skin. Burns of this type only affect the top layer of skin, which generally becomes red, may swell slightly, and is painful. First degree burns will usually heal on their own in under a week and do not typically cause blistering or scarring.
Second degree burns are also called partial-thickness burns and are further subdivided as either superficial partial-thickness or deep partial-thickness burns. A second degree burn damages the first and second layers of skin and generally presents with blistering and swelling. Second degree burns are more likely to cause scarring and pigment changes to the affected area.
Third degree burns are also called full-thickness burns, and as such they cause damage to all layers of skin, as well as the underlying fatty tissue. Blisters may form with this type of burn; however, they generally leave the skin dry, hard, and leathery. These types of burn will always require medical care, with larger burns generally requiring skin grafting. Risk of infection in individuals with severe burns is significantly increased.
Fourth degree burns extend through all layers of the skin and into underlying muscle, tendons, and bone. Burns of this type have a poor prognosis, generally involving amputation or recurrent and extensive debridement of damaged tissue. Individuals with burns of this degree often require prolonged hospitalization, multiple surgeries, and will experience significant functional impairment.
Social Security Medical Listings 1.08 and 8.08 Regarding Burns
Under the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments, burns are assessed under Listings 1.08 and 8.08. Medical Listing 1.08 describes burn injuries to the arms, legs, trunk, face, or head that are under continuing surgical management directed toward salvage or restoration of major function, with restoration of function not occurring, or not expected to occur within 12 months of the injury’s onset. Under Listing 8.08, burn injuries resulting in extensive skin lesions that meet the 12-month durational requirement are assessed. Extensive skin lesions are defined as involving multiple body sites or critical body areas. These burn injuries must result in ‘very serious limitation.’
Your representative can help you determine whether your burn injuries are severe enough to qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Administration.