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External Burn S001

Last amended 
8 May 2023

In this section

Current RMA Instruments
Reasonable Hypothesis SOP
110 of 2015 as amended
Balance of Probabilities SOP
111 of 2015 as amended
Changes from previous Instruments

SOP Bulletin 236

ICD coding

ICD-10-AM codes: T20 to T25, T29, T26.0-2. 

Brief description

An external burn is acute damage to the exterior of the body caused by: heat (via conduction or radiation); ionising radiation; other electromagnetic radiation; ultrasound; or corrosive chemicals.  Injury from friction or conduction of electricity is not covered by this SOP.

Confirming the diagnosis

This is a clinical diagnosis based on the history and findings on examination.

The relevant medical specialist is an emergency physician, dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

Additional diagnoses covered by these SOPs
  • Burns due to application of cold substances (excluding frostbite)
  • Burns due to hot substances
  • Chemical burn
  • Diathermy or ultrasound burn
  • Radiation burn
  • Sunburn
  • Welding burn (to the cornea)
Conditions not covered by these SOPs  
  • Burns to the retina of the eye* - retinal burn SOP
  • Electrical burn* - electrical injury SOP
  • Friction "burns"* - cut, stab, abrasion and laceration SOP
  • Frostbite*
  • Internal burns including to the respiratory tract and gastrointestinal tract and genitourinary tract# 
  • Lightning burn* - electrical injury SOP

* another SOP applies

# non-SOP condition

Clinical onset

This is instantaneous with the application of the agent. In this SOP the RMA has added a time delay in some of the factors which represents the time to recognise the injury, but the injury occurred within minutes of the application of the burning agent.

Clinical worsening

An external burn is an injury.  Any subsequent burn is a new injury that requires the SOP to be invoked again.

The natural history of a burn depends on the severity (depth) of the burn and the extent of the body surface that is affected.  Superficial burns can heal without scaring.  Severe extensive burns can be fatal or cause severe scarring.

Inability to obtain appropriate clinical management for a burn that is more than superficial is likley to result in a clinical worsening.