What Are Burn Injury Degrees

Last updated on: October 30, 2012

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NIH), a burn injury is caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight or radiation. Generally speaking, burns can damage the victim’s skin, tissue, muscle and bone. Burn injuries are divided into three categories: first, second and third degree. First degree burns only affect the victim’s outer layer of skin; second degree burns damage the outer layer of skin and the layer beneath; third degree burns damage or destroy the victim’s deepest layers of skin and tissue. In extreme cases, victims may suffer bone and muscle damage. Sometimes, extremely severe burns are categorized as fourth degree injuries.

First Degree Burns

Although first degree burns are not usually serious, they can be extremely painful. Mild burns are treatable through first aid and basic medical care – many first degree burns can heal without significant medical attention. For example, many sunburns are considered first degree burns. Individuals may acquire first degree burns by touching a hot burner, being exposed to the sun for a prolonged amount of time or accidentally picking up a scalding pan. Because first degree burns irritate nerve endings, they can be quite painful. Treating first degree burns in relatively easy, but there are a variety of things that can make the injury worse.

If the burn forms a blister, be careful not a pierce or open it. Opening the blister leaves the wound susceptible to infection. Avoid peeling clothing off of the affected area – this may be extremely painful. As the burn heals, you may be tempted to peel off any dry portions. Avoid this. In the past, people thought that burns could be treated by placing butter or oil on them. Never place butter, oil or ointment on a burn injury – it will only agitate the problem. To properly treat a first degree burn, place it under cool, running water for several minutes. If pain is persistent, give the affected individual aspirin and place aloe vera or another burn cream on the injury.

Second Degree Injuries

Like first degree burns, second degree burns may be red and develop blisters. Additionally, they may begin to ooze or swell. A second degree burn victim is identifiable by red, blotchy patches on the injury. Second degree burns may be very painful. To reduce pain, submerge the burn area in cool water. If the injury is located on the victims chest or back, you pay pour water on the injury to reduce pain. Substantial second degree burns should be treated by a medical professional, but you may continue to pour water on the burn until medical assistance arrives.

Although second degree burns may not always be traumatic or severe, if extensive portions of the victim’s body is affected they may require medical treatment. Avoid placing cloth on the injury; cloth tends to stick to burn injuries and removing the cloth may be extremely painful. Wrap a cool cloth in plastic before placing it on the wound. Additionally, avoid removing any clothing from the affected area. As with first degree burn injuries, this may be extremely painful. If the second degree burn is minor, the victim may not require medical attention and can be treated like a first degree injury.

Third Degree Burn

Third degree burns are extremely serious – even deadly. Individuals who have suffered third degree burns may need immediate medical attention. What is the difference between a second and third degree burn? Third degree burns are identifiable by charred and white areas on the victim’s body. Third degree burns destroy all layers of the victim’s skin and may cause the affected individual to go into shock. Symptoms of shock should always be treated before the actual burn injury. Although third degree burns require the attention of a qualified medical professional, first aid may prevent infection.

First, call for medical help. After treating the victim for shock, remove any tight clothes that are not near the burned area – third degree burns are susceptible to swelling. If the victim’s legs are feet have suffered third degree burns, elevate them above the heart; if his/her hands are affected do the same by placing a pillow underneath them. Do not allow the injured persona to stand or walk – movement may amplify the injury. Once first aid has been administered, getting the victim to the hospital is most important. Because of their severity, third degree burns may result in infection, pneumonia or other serious medical complications.