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Childhood Burn Injury Tied to Adult Depression, Study Shows

medical malpractice - er errors 2According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 450,000 victims of burn injury were logged in 2014, and of those, 40,000 required hospitalization. The physical recovery process for first, second or third-degree burns varies in nature and length, but with swift medical treatment most victims avoid infection and heal well.

Now, new research suggests that traumatic burns in children may leave much more permanent marks – psychological side effects that alter the emotional stability of this vulnerable population. The study authors found that adults who experienced a severe burn injury in childhood were more inclined to suffer major depression and suicidal thoughts. Entitled “Psychiatric outcomes amongst adult survivors of childhood burns,” the report was published in the May 26 online edition of Burns Medical Journal.

Childhood burn injury associated with depression

The research was performed by a team at the University of Adelaide’s Center for Traumatic Stress Studies, who examined 272 adults that had been hospitalized for childhood burns between 1980 and 1990. To assess psychiatric symptoms, the burn victims participated in structured interviews and answered questionnaires.

The data collected showed that adults with a history of childhood burns displayed high rates of suicidality and depression. Of the nearly 300 participants, 42 percent suffered lifetime prevalence of any psychiatric disorder, 30 percent experienced some form of depression, and 28 percent reported anxiety disorders. Even more alarming, 11 percent had gone through a failed suicide attempt.

Other factors that were tied to adverse psychiatric outcomes were a single relationship status, female gender, higher level of disfigurement, extended hospital stays and numerous burn-related operations.

The researchers believe that victims of childhood burn injuries may be more sensitive to the ill effects of mental trauma experienced later in life, thus making them more prone to depression and other mood disorders.

During their interviews, many of the participants failed to link their childhood burn experience with the onset of adult depression. The majority attributed their current psychological state with a later traumatic event.

Common causes of burns in children

Of the 272 study participants, 58 percent suffered scalding burns, while 17 percent were burned by fire.

In the United States, the following are the most common causes of childhood burn injuries:

  • Scalds (from hot foods and drinks, pans on the stove, hot bath water and steam)
  • Burns from flames and hot objects including stove burners, curling irons, fireplaces, gas grill flames etc.
  • Chemical burns caused from swallowing toxic liquids like cleaning products or skin exposure to chemicals such as bleach
  • Electrical burns – small children may put their fingers in electrical outlets or touch an exposed wire
  • Extreme sunburns

Babies, toddlers and children under the age of four are most susceptible to burn injuries, since they have thinner skin than adults, can quickly move about and do not comprehend household dangers. Research shows that the bulk of childhood burns occur at home. One of the best prevention tactics is keeping hazardous items out of reach, installing guards around the stove top and keeping a close eye on young children to prevent flame or contact burns.