Severe Burns Can Lead to the Need for Social Security Disability
The winter weather is upon us. From cold temperatures to snow falls, keeping warm is a priority for all. But for some, keeping warm leads to fires started by faulty space heaters and unwatched fireplaces. Burns from these fires are not only disfiguring, but can also lead to disability.
Burns in general
Burns can be caused by sunlight, i.e., sunburns. Hot liquids and steam burn skin through scalding. Fires are a common cause of burns. Electrical currents cause burns, especially where the electrical current entered the body and where it exited the body. “Chemicals such as strong acids, lye, paint thinner or gasoline” are also known burn causes.
Burns are classified into four types. A first-degree burn affects only the outer layer of skin. The affected skin is usually red, slightly swollen and somewhat painful. A second-degree burn is similar to a first-degree burn, but the skin can be more splotchy in color and there are blisters.
A third-degree burn goes through all layers of skin and into the underlying fat layer. “The skin may appear stiff, waxy white, leathery or tan. Third-degree burns can destroy nerves, causing numbness.”
The most severe burns are fourth-degree burns. These burns affect muscles and bones and the skin can looked blackened or charred. Nerve damage can be so severe that the individual does not feel any pain.
Second-degree burns may require medical treatment. Third and fourth-degree burns should be treated by medical professionals as quickly as possible.
First-degree burns rarely have complications. More severe burns are prone to complications. Since second through fourth-degree burns are open wounds, these are prone to infection. If a bacterial infection gets into a burn victim's bloodstream, that individual can develop sepsis. “Sepsis is a rapidly progressing, life-threatening condition that can cause shock and organ failure.”
Third and fourth-degree burns damage blood vessels that can lead to loss of fluid and low blood volume. “Severe blood and fluid loss prevents the heart from pumping enough blood to the body.”
“Deep burns can limit movement of the bones and joints. Scar tissue can form and cause contractures, when skin, muscles or tendons shorten and tighten, permanently pulling joints out of position.”
The severity of a burn dictates what types of treatments will be required to assist the injured individual. Burn creams are used to keep the area moist and prevent infection. Pain relievers help to relieve pain. If an individual suffers from a third or fourth-degree burn, it may become necessary to use morphine for the pain. Antibiotics are used if an infection develops. If an individual has lost a lot of fluid, then intravenous fluids help “prevent dehydration and organ failure.”
Once an individual has healed from the initial injury, then physical therapy might be required to restore and increase mobility in an affected joints and muscles.
For severe burns across large areas of the body, surgery may be necessary. Immediately after being injured, an individual may require breathing assistance with a tube inserted down the windpipe to keep breathing passages open. It may also be necessary to insert a feeding tube through the nose and into the stomach for adequate nutrition during the healing process.
Once an individual is on the mend, some other surgical procedures may become necessary. “If a burn scar (eschar) goes completely around a limb, it can tighten and cut off the blood circulation. Cutting the eschar in several places can relieve this pressure.” This is called decompression. If a large area of skin has suffered burns, skin grafts may be needed to cover some of these areas. And once healing is well underway, reconstruction by a plastic surgeon may be required. Reconstruction “can improve the appearance of burn scars and increase the flexibility of joints affected by scarring.”
Social Security Disability
The Social Security Administration (SSA) classifies burns under skin conditions. When assessing skin disorders, the SSA looks at the extent of the burns across the skin, how the burns limit range of motion and the pain an individual feels, and the extent of the treatment required for the burned areas. Burns do not require biopsy or blood tests for diagnosis because burns are not genetic skin conditions.
The SSA notes that “electrical, chemical, or thermal burns frequently affect other body systems; for example, musculoskeletal, special senses and speech, respiratory, cardiovascular, renal neurological, or mental. [The SSA] evaluates burns the way they evaluate all other disorders that can affect the skin and other body systems, using the listing for the predominant feature of the impairment.” To qualify for Social Security Disability, the individual must have extensive burns “that have lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.”
Burns are very painful and safety is paramount in this winter season. If you have suffered a severe burn and are limited in your daily activities, you may be eligible for SSD benefits. If you are considering applying for disability benefits, contact our experienced attorney to assist you.