Triggers & Trauma for Severe Burn Injury Survivors

Severe burns are life-changing. Regardless of the size of the affected area or the part of the body on which they occur, serious burns tend to leave lasting physical and psychological trauma. In addition to dealing with extreme pain, many burn injury survivors also experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the injury. This can be debilitating and often makes the road to recovery that much harder.

What Constitutes a “Severe” Burn?

Many people have suffered minor burns from time to time. Accidentally grabbing a hot pan, taking a sip of too-hot coffee, or bumping a hot hair tool, like a curling iron, against exposed skin can all lead to minor burns. Typically, these burns don’t require any medical attention and will generally heal on their own with at-home first aid treatment.

Severe burns, on the other hand, are a completely different story.

A severe burn injury, also known as a catastrophic burn, causes widespread damage and typically leads to extreme pain. These burns nearly always require medical attention, as they can sometimes be life-threatening.

A burn injury is usually considered “severe” if it:

  • Covers a large part of the body’s surface area
  • Affects particularly sensitive areas, like the face or groin
  • Is a third-degree burn covering more than 1% of the body

Both second- and third-degree burns can be catastrophic. These injuries damage the skin's upper layer (epidermis) and lower layer (dermis) and may even affect underlying muscles, tissues, and bones. They can lead to permanent scarring, disfigurement, charred skin, extreme pain, numbness, and other devastating effects.

Common Causes of Catastrophic Burn Injuries

There are several different types of catastrophic burn injuries, each of which has numerous potential causes.

These include:

  • Thermal Burns: The most common type of burn injury, thermal burns occur when a person makes physical contact with a hot surface or substance. Common causes of severe thermal burns include hot liquid spills, explosions, fires, touching heated metal, and steam-related scalding.
  • Chemical Burns: As the name suggests, chemical burns occur when the body comes into contact with abrasive, corrosive, or highly acidic chemicals. This includes things like paint thinners, gasoline/petrol, drain cleaners, acids, bleach, metal cleaners, phosphorous, and similar substances.
  • Electrical Burns: Electrical burns occur as a result of contact with various forms of electricity. This includes electrical outlets, electrical panels, circuit breakers, exposed wires, appliances, and even lightning. An electric shock can lead to flash burns, arc burns, and thermal burns, as well as muscle contraction.
  • Radiation Burns: When someone is exposed to radiation, they are at risk of suffering a radiation burn. The most common type of radiation burn is a sunburn, which occurs as a result of solar radiation. Other forms of radiation burns include those resulting from X-rays, radiation therapy for cancer treatment, and workplace radiation exposure.

Severe burns can occur in a variety of settings, including at home, on the road, or in the workplace. Any type of accident—from a car crash to an oil rig explosion—can cause devastating, life-altering burns, which may even be fatal.

Understanding the Long-Term Impacts of Severe Burns

Severe burn injuries often lead to profound physical and psychological effects. In addition to enduring physical challenges—from managing significant pain to undergoing skin grafting surgery—survivors must also navigate the complex mental and emotional toll these injuries can have. Understanding these impacts is crucial for providing comprehensive care and support to burn survivors on their journey to recovery and beyond.

Physical Impacts

Severe burn injuries inflict profound physical trauma on the body, affecting multiple layers of skin and, in many cases, underlying tissues. The initial impact of a burn is often excruciatingly painful, as the skin's nerve endings are damaged, leading to intense discomfort and even shock. Even when nerves are damaged significantly, leading initially to numbness, the victim is likely to suffer significant pain later during treatment.

Beyond the immediate injury, severe burns can result in long-term physical challenges that necessitate intensive medical interventions.

One of the primary treatments for severe burns is skin grafting, a surgical procedure where healthy skin from another part of the body (known as the donor site) is transplanted onto the burn site. This procedure is crucial for promoting healing and reducing the risk of infection. However, it introduces additional physical challenges, as both the donor and recipient sites require meticulous care to ensure successful graft integration and minimal scarring.

In cases where burns are extensive or severe complications arise, medical amputation may be necessary to remove irreparably damaged tissue and preserve overall bodily function. This decision is often made to prevent further complications, such as infection, or to improve the patient's quality of life post-recovery. Amputations due to severe burns can profoundly impact mobility and independence, necessitating comprehensive rehabilitation and prosthetic management to help patients regain functionality and adapt to their new physical reality.

Furthermore, burn injuries can lead to systemic complications, such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and impaired immune function, which require vigilant medical management to mitigate. The healing process after a severe burn is typically prolonged and requires specialized wound care to prevent complications, like hypertrophic scarring, contractures (where skin tightens and restricts movement), and functional impairments. Often, physical therapy plays a critical role in preventing and managing these complications by promoting mobility, strength, and flexibility in affected areas.

Throughout the treatment and recovery phases, burn survivors often endure multiple surgeries and invasive procedures, each contributing to the physical toll of their injury. Beyond the immediate medical interventions, the ongoing management of scars and associated skin conditions remains a lifelong concern, often necessitating ongoing dermatological care and, possibly, reconstructive surgeries to improve both function and appearance.

Psychological Impacts

Severe burn injuries not only leave a lasting mark on the body but also deeply affect the psychological well-being of survivors. The experience of enduring such a traumatic event can trigger a range of emotional responses that persist long after the physical wounds have healed. Severe burn injury survivors often grapple with profound psychological impacts that require sensitive and specialized care to address effectively.

Some of the most common psychological impacts of severe burn injuries include:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Many burn survivors experience PTSD, characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety related to the traumatic event. The intense pain and the life-threatening nature of the injury can imprint deeply on the survivor's psyche, leading to persistent distressing symptoms.
  • Depression: Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair are common among severe burn survivors, particularly as they confront the challenges of recovery and adaptation. Depression may stem from physical disfigurement, loss of functionality, or the social and emotional adjustments required post-injury.
  • Anxiety and Fear: Survivors often face heightened levels of anxiety and fear, especially related to medical treatments, future surgeries, and the uncertainty of recovery outcomes. Additionally, the fear of re-injury or enduring pain can significantly impact daily life and decision-making processes.
  • Body Image and Self-Esteem Issues: Severe burns can alter a person's physical appearance dramatically, leading to profound changes in body image and self-esteem. Visible scars and disfigurement may evoke feelings of shame, embarrassment, or self-consciousness, impacting social interactions and personal relationships.

Psychological care for burn survivors typically involves a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating mental health professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and support groups. Therapeutic interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are effective in treating PTSD symptoms, helping individuals process traumatic memories and develop coping strategies for anxiety and fear.

Supportive counseling and psychoeducation play crucial roles in addressing depression and self-esteem issues, providing a safe space for survivors to express their emotions, explore identity changes, and rebuild confidence. Encouraging social support networks and peer connections can also mitigate feelings of isolation and foster resilience in navigating the challenges of recovery.

Moreover, ongoing psychological support is essential as survivors adapt to long-term changes in physical function and appearance. Rehabilitation programs that incorporate mental health components can promote holistic healing, empowering individuals to reclaim their sense of identity and pursue meaningful goals beyond their injury.

When Someone Else Is Responsible for Serious Burn Injuries

All too often, catastrophic burns result from traumatic events that could have—and should have—been avoided. Countless people suffer life-altering burn injuries through no fault of their own but, rather, due to the careless, reckless, or wrongful conduct of others. When this happens, survivors have the right to seek justice through legal action.

By filing a personal injury claim for a severe burn injury, survivors can pursue just compensation for the many physical and psychological damages they have incurred as a result of their injuries. A successful claim allows you to recover for things like past and future medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost wages and income, loss of earning ability, physical and emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, and more. The goal of such a claim is to fully compensate you for all the losses you have endured as a result of someone else’s negligence.

Contact Us

Get Started with a Free Consultation

  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • This isn't a valid email address.
    Please enter your email address.
  • This isn't a valid phone number.
    Please enter your phone number.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.