Editorial Staff and Contributors
A burn is damage to the skin and sometimes to the underlying tissues. Burns are labeled by the depth and amount of damage to the skin:
Superficial burn (also called first-degree burn)
Mildest type of burn Often caused by ultraviolet light, or very short (“flash") flame exposure Affects only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) Normally does not cause scarring Takes about 3-6 days to heal
Superficial partial-thickness burn (also called second-degree burn)
Often caused by a scald (spill or splash) or short (“flash”) flame exposure Affects the outer layer of the skin more deeply, usually causing blistering May or may not cause scarring, but often does cause long-term skin color changes Takes about 1-3 weeks to heal
Deep partial-thickness burn (also called second-degree burn)
Often caused by a scald (spill), may involve flame, oil, or grease Affects the outer and underlying layer of skin (dermis), causing blistering Usually causes scarring Usually takes more than 3 weeks to heal
Full-thickness burn (also called third-degree burn)
Very serious Often caused by scald (immersion), may involve flame, steam, oil, grease, chemicals, or high-voltage electricity Damages all layers of the skin, and may involve the tissues underneath (muscle and bone) Causes scarring Will heal only at the wound edges by scarring, unless skin grafting is done
Classification of Skin Burns
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Burns can be caused by:
Heat or flame (thermal burns)
Hot foods or drinks such as boiling water, tea, or coffee Hot oil or grease Hot tap water Direct heat such as stoves, heaters, or curling irons Direct flame Flammable liquids such as gasoline Fireworks
Chemicals (chemical burn)—strong acids or strong bases such as:
Cleaning products Battery fluid Pool chemicals Drain cleaners
sunburn) or tanning beds
Damaged electrical cords Electrical outlets High-voltage wires Lightning
Radiation (radiation burn)
Nuclear radiation X-rays Radiation therapy
for cancer treatment
Burns are more common in males, and in those aged under 4 years. Other factors that may increase your chances of burns:
Illegal drug use
Low socioeconomic status
Absent or non-functioning smoke detectors
Substandard or older housing
Unsupervised or improperly supervised children
Using tap water hotter than 120°F (48.8°C)
Burn symptoms and signs vary depending on the type of burn.
Burned area turns red and is painful
The area blanches (turns white) when you press on it
The area may swell, but it is dry and there is no blistering
Superficial Partial-Thickness Burn
The area is moist, red, and weeping
The area blanches (turns white) when you press on it
Painful to air and temperature
Deep Partial-Thickness Burn
Blisters, usually loose and easily unroofed
The area can be wet or waxy dry
The skin color can vary from patchy, to cheesy white, to red
The area does not blanch (turn white) with pressure
May or may not be painful, can perceive pressure
Skin can appear waxy white, leathery gray, or charred and blackened
May not be painful if nerves have been damaged, the only sensation may be deep pressure
The doctor will ask how the burn occurred and will examine the burned area.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the burn, how deep the burn is, and how much of the body the burn covers.
Quick treatment is important and can lessen the damage to the tissues. First aid for minor burns may involve:
Cooling the burn with running water or a cold damp cloth. Not ice—Ice may cause more damage to the skin.
Do not use butter, grease, oils, or ointments on the burn.
Cover the burn with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
Do not use a fluffy cloth such as a towel or blanket.
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Do not break or pop any blisters.
This may result in an infection.
If you see signs of an infection, get medical attention. Signs of infection include:
Increased pain Redness Fever Swelling Oozing of pus
Once a minor burn is completely cooled, you can consider using a fragrance-free lotion or moisturizer to prevent drying and make the area more comfortable.
For more serious burns, like deep partial-thickness or full-thickness burns, seek medical attention or call emergency medical services. Until an emergency unit arrives:
Do not take off any clothing that is stuck to the burn.
Make sure the victim is not near, or in contact with, any smoldering materials or exposed to further smoke or heat.
Do not soak the burn in water, but you can cover the area with a cool, moist sterile bandage or clean cloth.
As with any severe injury, make sure the person is breathing and administer
A doctor will decide if hospitalization is needed. Reasons to hospitalize a person who has more than a minor burn may include:
Age: younger than five years or older than 55 years
Suspected child abuse
Very small, deep burns on the hands, face, eyes, feet, or perineum (groin/genital area)
Extensive burn: using TBSA and age charts
Burns that may require complicated dressing changes, elevation, or continued physician observation
High-voltage injury or burn
Suspected or known inhalation injury
Other medical problems that predispose a person to infection such as:
Medical Treatment for Major Burns
If the burn is serious, the following treatments may be administered in a hospital:
to help with breathing
IV fluids to replace those lost from the burn
Medications to manage pain
Splints—placed on joints to help maintain mobility
Physical therapy, in the case of large burns
Most burns are the result of accidents. To help reduce the chance of burns:
about fire prevention and keep dangerous materials out of reach.
Make sure smoke detectors are installed and in working order. Replace batteries twice a year. One way to remember to do this is to change the batteries the same days you change the clocks for daylight savings and standard times.
When cooking, keep pot handles turned toward the back of the stove.
Supervise young children in the kitchen and around fireworks.
Set the temperature on the water heater to less than 120°F (48.8°C) and test the bath water before your child gets in.
Make sure children’s sleepwear is flame-resistant.
Do not hold children in your arms or lap while cooking, serving, or eating hot foods or liquids.
Do not leave matches, lighters, candles, or burning cigarettes unattended.
Wear protective gloves and clothing when handling caustic chemicals.
Put protective covers on electrical outlets.
Do not wear loose-fitting sleeves while cooking.
Keep children and pets away from the stove while cooking.
Make sure electrical cords are not hanging over the edge of countertops.
Store chemicals and cleaners in a locked cabinet.
Children younger than 1 year can sustain partial-thickness burns from hot seat belt straps or buckles in car seats. Make sure car seats are not hot before putting a child in the seat. If you park in the sun, cover the seat with a towel.
American Burn Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org CANADIAN RESOURCES:
Canadian Burn Survivors Community
Burns. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated October 2016. Accessed December 21, 2017.
First aid for burns: Parent FAQ. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website.
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/First-Aid-For-Burns.aspx. Updated October 2, 2015. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Major burns. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
. Updated September 12, 2017. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Minor burns. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
. Updated March 20, 2017. Accessed December 21, 20176.
Protect the ones you love: burns. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention website. Available at:
https://www.cdc.gov/SafeChild/Fact_Sheets/Burns-Fact-Sheet-a.pdf. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Topical treatment and dressing of burns. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
. Updated March 19, 2015. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 12/21/2017
Medical Center of Independence 17203 E. 23rd St.