Recognizing Types of Burns

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated September 5, 2008)

Medical professionals assess burns using the most common classifications of first-, second-, and third-degree burns. Recognizing the type of burn sustained by a victim determines the treatment for the burn. Brief descriptions of the most common classification of burns are:

  1. First-degree burns affect only the outermost layer of skin. They are limited to pink or light red skin color, are sensitive to the touch, and create soreness. First-degree burns do not blister nor scar.
  2. Second-degree burns involve the two top layers of skin, and sometimes the third. Characteristics of second-degree burns are extremely red, blistered skin, with the skin looking wet because of fluid loss.
  3. Third-degree burns are the most dangerous of burns. They destroy all of the layers of the skin. They may appear leathery, black, or white on the surface, and destroy the skin's nerve endings. Third-degree burns may blister or appear bright red, and can damage muscle, fat, and bone.

You can recognize a type of burn by the way it looks, the amount of tissue damaged, and what caused it. It is difficult to ascertain how many people receive first-degree burns each year, since most people do not obtain medical advice or professional treatment for them. With first-degree burns, the outermost layer of skin is involved, with sometimes swelling and pain, and the skin is pink or red. Some causes of first-degree burns are sun or wind burn, contact with a hot iron, beverage, or candle wax, and rug or rope burn.

Second-degree burns are sometimes treated by a doctor since they involve more tissue damage than first-degree burns. Producing severe swelling and pain, second-degree burns blister and the skin appears extremely red. Some causes of second-degree burns are contact with very hot liquids, severe sunburns, direct contact with fire, and chemical burns.

Third-degree burns are most times critical, and require immediate medical attention. Caused most often by contact with electricity, corrosive chemicals, extreme scalding, and flames, third-degree burns sometimes cause the victim to go into shock from loss of fluids. With third-degree burns, the skin appears either black or white, with a leathery surface. Most often the victim of a third-degree burn feels little pain at the actual burn site, since the skin's nerve endings are destroyed, but the skin surrounding the burn will be almost unbearably painful, will blister, and appear bright red. Third-degree burns can also destroy muscle, bone, and fat. Some causes of third-degree burns are clothing that catches fire, ingesting corrosive chemicals, electrocution, and burns from explosions.

Remember that all third-degree burns require immediate medical treatment, since the victim may go into shock and could die. Transport the victim to the nearest emergency room, or dial 911.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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