Differences Between Third and Fourth-Degree Burns

Posted by Firm Staff on Sep 26, 2017 12:14:20 PM
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There are varying degrees of burn injuries, ranging from first-degree to fourth-degree burns and beyond. Some of the most debilitating are third and fourth-degree burns. Each year, hundreds of thousands of individuals are admitted to hospitals for burn injuries that occur in the home, workplace, or as the result of car accidents. Regardless of the cause, severe burns have a traumatic effect on the victim and their families emotionally, physically, and financially.


These types of serious burns are severely damaging and subject the victim to extreme hardship due to loss of nerve endings, muscle mass, or bone. Victims can spend months in the hospital receiving skin grafts, recovering from amputations, or participating in rehabilitation programs. Often, victims of severe burns require lifelong assisted care. If you or someone you know has recently been injured and has suffered from a serious burn, you should seek the assistance of a burn injury lawyer to review your case.


What is a Third-Degree Burn?

Third-degree, or full thickness burns, can be the result of extended exposure or contact with hot liquids, gas, chemicals, metal, or in some extreme cases sunlight. This type of burn penetrates all three layers of the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. Characteristically, they are dry, leathery, and sometimes waxy in appearance. These burns are often painless due to the loss of nerve endings. However, all burns vary in depth, meaning they are often coupled with first and second-degree burns that are extremely painful and require separate medical attention.


Complications of Third-Degree Burns


Due to the depth and the Total Body Surface Area (TBSA) involved, infections from third-degree burns are highly susceptible to sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening infection that occurs when bacteria, fungus, or infection seeps into the bloodstream, causing organ failure.



One of the many functions of the skin is to act as an insulation barrier and prevent fluid loss. Severe damage to the skin, and subsequent blood vessels lead to hypovolemia making it difficult for the body to retain fluids causing dehydration, vomiting and blood loss.



Scarring is a multi-faceted issue because it creates problems both physically and emotionally, especially if the wounds are not easy to hide. Those with visible scars may become self-conscious and isolate themselves to the point of depression. The most common problem with physical scarring is hyper-sensitivity to sunlight and touch, often drying out, cracking, and becoming uncomfortably itchy.


What is a Fourth-Degree Burn?

Most fourth-degree burns are caused by extreme circumstances such as fire, radiation, electrical currents, chemicals, and hot liquids or metals. According to the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of Texas, these burns include severe damage to the dermis similar to third-degree burns, but differ because they extend into muscle, fat, tendons, and occasionally the bone. This type of injury is life-threatening and produces blackened or charred skin requiring skin grafting and leaves behind intense scarring. Numbness occurs due to the dismantling of the nerve endings, but are painful when coupled with first and second-degree burns. Parts of the body damaged by this type of injury are often permanently disabled.


Complications of Fourth-Degree Burns

Bone, Muscle, and Tendon Loss

The most serious complication stemming from fourth-degree burns is the loss of muscle and bone. Unlike skin, the body is unable to regrow these critical tissues.


Scar Tissue

Furthermore, scar tissue developed from this type of burn injury can prohibit movement of the bone and joint areas resulting in lasting pain and limited function.



In extreme cases, amputation may be required, which often results in a lifelong disability, the need for ongoing physical therapy, and a need for costly long term care.


Heart and Lung Disease

Injuries caused by fire create difficulties with breathing due to inhalation of carbon monoxide and particulates and can lead to chronic heart and lung disease.


Burn Injury at Home and in the Workplace

According to the most recent statistics from The American Burn Association, 73% of the burn injuries recorded last year happened within the home. Arson, electrical fires, hot liquids, defective appliances such as water heaters, furnaces, and smoke detectors are leading contributors to home-related injuries. Regular testing by manufacturers can prevent such incidents happening within the home, but are often neglected.


The American Burn Association reporting goes on to show that despite applied safety measures and guidelines, burns in the workplace account for an additional 8% of burns reported each year.


Burn Injury Compensation

Any of the following incidents may coincide with a burn injury case:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Arson
  • Electrical fires
  • Construction
  • Thermal burns
  • Hot liquid burns
  • Explosions
  • Chemical spills
  • Defective smoke detectors and fire alarms
  • Fires caused by defective furnaces, water heaters, or other defective products
  • Building fires including those that occur in houses, offices, and apartment buildings

Our attorneys have helped numerous individuals who have been affected by burn injuries. If you or a loved one are suffering, contact The Law Offices of Foster and Houston for a free case review.

Topics: Burn Injury, Severe Burn Injury, Burn Injury Lawyer, Burn Injury Attorney

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