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Determining the Severity of a Burn

Combining Depth and Size of Burns


Updated April 29, 2014

Heating pad burn

Heating pad burn.

(c) Francisco de La Roxa

There are several factors used to determine if a burn is critical enough to necessitate a specialty burn center. Any burn that matches these criteria warrants a call to 911. In many areas, ground ambulances or helicopters are able to take burn victims directly from the scene to a burn unit.

Burns that cover more than 10 percent of the body's surface area are generally considered to be critical in most locations, but be sure to follow your local protocols. To determine the total burned surface area in the field, use the Rule of Nines. Remember to only count second-degree burns or worse. First-degree burns do not need specialty treatment.

Specific Critical Burns

Most burns are determined to be critical by the depth and the size of the burn. However, burns on important parts of the body are critical regardless of the overall size of the burn itself. Burns still must be second-degree or worse to be considered critical. First-degree burns are not counted.

Burns to these areas are considered critical:

  • Face
  • Burns that completely encircle the hands or feet
  • Genitals

Treatment of Critical Burns

Treating burns is the same regardless of how critical they are. Complications of critical burns include infection, hypothermia, and dehydration. The most important step a lay rescuer can take for a critical burn is to call 911.
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