Treating Third-degree Burns

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

Caused most often from direct contact with open flames, electricity, corrosive chemicals, and extremely hot objects, third-degree burns are severe and can be life-threatening. Examples of causes of third-degree burns are clothing catching fire, a scald over most of the body, overexposure to extreme cold over a long period of time, and direct contact with acid.

Third-degree burns are severe, and can involve total loss of all skin layers, with damage to the underlying tendons, ligaments, muscle, and sometimes bone damage. Characteristics of third-degree burns are:

  • Charred skin
  • Loss of feeling due to total nerve damage
  • Leather-like appearance
  • Purple fluid
  • Hard eschars (scabs)

While you can administer brief first-aid to a victim with third-degree burns, you should never attempt to treat a third-degree burn at home. If the person is on fire, smother the flames with water, or a blanket or jacket, and tell him to stop, drop, and roll. You can remove jewelry from the burn site, but do not remove clothing that has burnt into the skin. You can briefly flush the area with cool water, but not for too long since doing so will cool down the body too much, and may cause the victim to go into shock. Call 911 or get the victim to an emergency room as soon as possible. Several things to remember for treating third-degree burns are:

  • Limbs that are burned should be raised to deduce swelling.
  • If the burns involve the neck, face, or head, raise the victim's head slightly, especially if he has difficulty breathing.
  • Never apply burn ointments, lotions, oils, or butters since they can make the burn worse, holding heat in and stopping air from getting to the burn.
  • If the victim is in shock, do not give him anything to drink.
  • Administer CPR if the victim stops breathing.
  • Thoroughly rinse away chemicals from the skin with large amounts of cool water.
  • Never use ice or ice water on a burn.
  • If the victim has been electrocuted, make sure that the electrical current has been disconnected before you touch him.

Because the never endings of the skin are destroyed with third-degree burns, the burn site may not be painful, but the area around it will be unbearably painful. Pain causes the pulse and breathing rate to quicken, and can cause the victim to go into shock.

The body loses a tremendous amount of fluid when it sustains third-degree burns, so moderate and critical third-degree burns require hospitalization. Replacement fluids are administered through an IV, breathing tubes are inserted for breathing problems, antibiotics are given to protect against infection, and the victim may require an extended stay in a specialized pure-oxygen room, called a hyperbaric chamber. Many third-degree burn victims also require skin grafts.

Always seek professional medical treatment when third-degree burns occur.

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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