There are severe types of burns that go beyond the subcutaneous layer and affect the base structures, such as muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones. These are called 4th degree burns, and they are the most serious and life-threatening type of burns. In this article, we will explain the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of fourth-degree burns, as well as the prevention and recovery tips.
Causes of 4th Degree Burns.
- Fire accidents, such as house fires, car fires, or explosions.
- Industrial accidents, such as chemical spills, electrical shocks, or machinery malfunctions.
- Domestic accidents, such as cooking, ironing, or boiling water.
- Abuse or violence, such as arson, torture, or self-harm.
Symptoms of 4th Degree Burns.
Unlike lower-degree burns, 4th degree burns are usually painless, because the nerve endings are destroyed. The surrounding areas may be painful, and the person may experience other symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty breathing, if the burn affects the face, neck, or chest.
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, if the burn affects the abdomen or pelvis.
- Weakness, dizziness, or fainting, due to blood loss or shock.
- Fever, chills, or sweating, due to infection or inflammation.
- Confusion, anxiety, or depression, due to trauma or stress.
Diagnosis of 4th Degree Burns.
At the hospital, a doctor will examine the burn and assess its severity, size, location, and depth. The doctor will also check for other injuries, such as fractures, smoke inhalation, or organ damage. The doctor may order some tests, such as:
- Blood tests, to check for infection, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalance.
- Urine tests, to check for kidney function or muscle breakdown.
- X-rays, to check for bone damage or foreign objects.
- CT scans, to check for internal damage or complications.
The doctor may also use a tool called the Lund and Browder chart, which is a diagram of the human body that shows the percentage of body surface area (BSA) covered by each body part. The doctor will use this chart to estimate the total BSA affected by the burn, which is an important factor for determining the treatment and prognosis of the burn.
Treatment of 4th Degree Burns.
The treatment of fourth-degree burns may involve the following steps:
- Stabilization. The first step is to stabilize the person and address any life-threatening conditions, such as breathing difficulties, blood loss, or organ failure. The person may receive oxygen, fluids, blood transfusions, pain medications, antibiotics, or tetanus shots, depending on their needs.
- Debridement. The next step is to remove any clothing, jewelry, or debris from the wound, and to clean and disinfect the wound. The doctor may also perform a procedure called debridement, which is the surgical removal of dead or damaged tissue from the wound. This helps prevent infection, reduce inflammation, and prepare the wound for healing or grafting.
- Grafting. The final step is to cover the wound with a new layer of skin or a synthetic material, to protect the wound and promote healing. This is called grafting, and it can be done in different ways, such as:
- Skin grafting. This is the most common type of grafting, and it involves taking a thin layer of healthy skin from another part of the person’s body (called the donor site) and attaching it to the wound (called the recipient site). The donor site may heal on its own, or it may need another graft to cover it. Skin grafting can be done in one or more stages, depending on the size and depth of the wound.
- Artificial skin. This is a type of grafting that uses a synthetic material, such as silicone, collagen, or biodegradable polymers, to cover the wound. Artificial skin can provide temporary or permanent coverage, depending on the type and quality of the material. Artificial skin can also stimulate the growth of new skin cells, blood vessels, and nerves in the wound.
- Tissue engineering. This is a type of grafting that uses a combination of biological and synthetic materials, such as stem cells, growth factors, and scaffolds, to create a new layer of skin or tissue in the laboratory, and then transplant it to the wound. Tissue engineering can provide a more natural and functional coverage, but it is still an experimental and expensive technique.
Prevention of 4th Degree Burns.
Keep hot foods and beverages away from table edges, and warn others when a hot liquid or dish is being served.
Don’t leave hot beverages or cooking pots and pans unattended around children or pets, and use oven mitts when handling them.
If using a travel mug, be sure to use a spill-proof lid, and don’t overfill cups or bowls.
Be careful with chemicals, and wear protective goggles when you use them. When you’re not using them, keep them away from kids and out of the house, ideally locked in a secure, child-proof place.
Don’t put electrical appliances anywhere near water, unplug them when they’re not in use, and put them in a safe place away from kids.
If you have an oxygen tank in your home, keep it maintained and make sure any smoking (if it must take place) occurs far from the tank.
Watch young children in the kitchen, and cover all electrical sockets.
Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen, and protect your skin from the sun.
The Key Takeaway.
4th degree burns are the most severe and life-threatening type of burns, and they require immediate and specialized medical attention. They can cause permanent damage to the skin and other tissues, and may lead to serious complications, such as infection, shock, organ failure, and death.
FAQs On 4th Degree Burns.
How common are 4th degree burns?
4th degree burns are very rare, accounting for less than 1% of all burn injuries. They are usually caused by extreme or prolonged exposure to heat, electricity, or chemicals. They are more likely to occur in people who are unable to escape or protect themselves from the source of the burn, such as children, elderly, or disabled people, or people who are intoxicated or unconscious.
How long does it take to heal from a 4th degree burn?
In general, it can take several months to years to heal from a 4th degree burn, and some people may never fully recover from the damage and disability caused by the burn.
What are the possible complications of a 4th degree burn?
4th degree burns can cause serious and potentially life-threatening complications, such as: infections, shock, organ damage, amputation, scarring and more.
How can I cope with the emotional and mental effects of a 4th degree burn?
You can seek professional help, join a support group, seek social support and practice self care to heal from the mental and emotional effects of a 4th degree burn.