Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Burns Evaluation

The evaluation of someone with burns begins with a medical history and physical examination.

Physical findings in those with first degree burns include:


Physical findings in those with second degree burns include:

Physical findings in those with third degree burns include:
  • Cause charring to the skin.
  • Burned skin may appear white or dark.
  • There is little or no sensation when touching the burn due to damage to the skin nerves.
  • The areas outside of the burn may still be painful.

Tests may be necessary to determine the severity of the burns.

Tests that may be used to evaluate burns includes:

For more information:

Burns Classification

In addition to the type and degree of burn, there are other factors that help determine the severity and treatment of a burn.

The American Burn Association has identified three risk groups of burn patients. Using this information they have divided burns into major, moderate, and minor burns based on severity of burn and the patient risk group.

Risk groups by age and health include:

  • Low-Risk Patients: between the ages of 10 and 50 years
  • Higher-Risk Patients: under 10 years of age or over 50 years
  • Poor-Risk Patients: underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes

Major Burns
Major burns are:
  • Any burns in infants or the elderly
  • Any burns involving the hands, face, feet, or perineum
  • Burns complicated by fractures or other trauma
  • Burns complicated by inhalation injury
  • Burns crossing major joints
  • Burns extending completely around the circumference of a limb
  • Electrical burns
  • Full-thickness burns of greater than 10% body surface area in any risk group
  • Partial-thickness burns more than 20% body surface area in the higher-risk group
  • Partial-thickness burns more than 25% of the body surface area in the low-risk group

Moderate Burns
These include:
  • Partial-thickness burns of 15 to 25% body surface area in the low-risk group
  • Partial-thickness burns of 10-20% body surface area in the higher-risk group
  • Full-thickness burns of at least 10% body surface area or less in others

Minor Burns
Minor burns must be:
  • Less than 15% body surface area in the low-risk group
  • Less than 10% body surface area in the higher-risk group
  • Full-thickness burns that are less than 2% body surface area in others

Continue to Burns Treatment

Last Updated: Dec 2, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Burns References
  1. Allison K, Porter K. Consensus on the prehospital approach to burns patient management. Emerg Med J. 2004 Jan;21(1):112-4. [14734397]
  2. Drago DA. Kitchen scalds and thermal burns in children five years and younger. Pediatrics. 2005 Jan;115(1):10-6. [15629975]
  3. Phillips BJ, Kassir A, Anderson B, Schiller WR. Recreational-outdoor burns: the impact and severity--a retrospective review of 107 patients. Burns. 1998 Sep;24(6):559-61. [9776095]
  4. Smith MA, Munster AM, Spence RJ. Burns of the hand and upper limb--a review. Burns. 1998 Sep;24(6):493-505. [9776087]
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