Burns occur when heat damages the skin. This can range from sunburns to burning your hand on hot water to severe burns from fire or chemicals.
While all burns will hurt and cause damage to your skin and underlying tissues, not all burns warrant a trip to urgent care. In fact, some can be easily treated right at home.
But some require immediate medical attention in order to relieve pain, heal the skin, and prevent permanent scarring and issues. In this article, we’re going to go over the four types of burns and how to respond in the event of each one.
First-degree burns are also called “superficial” burns. These types of burns only affect the first outermost layer of the skin. This layer is called the epidermis.
Examples of first-degree burns include mild sunburns, scalds from hot water, and what are called “flash burns” (quick exposure to something hot).
With first-degree burns, the skin will turn red. It might be painful, itchy, hot/painful to touch and result in the skin peeling. There are no blisters with first-degree burns, and it rarely results in any lasting damage.
These burns will resolve on their own within a couple of days. You can alleviate pain with ice packs, OTC pain medications, and soothing lotion.
Second-degree burns are slightly more severe than first-degree burns, affecting both the first layer of skin (the epidermis) and the second layer of skin (the dermis). They’re also called “partial thickness” burns.
These burns can be both red and white in color and usually look patchy and splotchy. They also result in blisters, swelling, skin thickening, and can cause oozing.
These are usually painful and can result in permanent scarring of the skin if they’re deep burns.
Going one level deeper, third-degree burns affect the epidermis, the dermis, and the fat tissue that’s underneath those two layers of skin called “subcutaneous” tissue. They’re also called “full thickness” burns.
These burns effectively destroy the top two layers of skin. The appearance of this burn is usually quite gruesome with black charring, brown, white, and red. This gives it a “leathery” appearance.
While these burns are painful, they can also destroy nerves, which can numb the area.
Fourth-degree burns are the most severe classification. These burns destroy both layers of skin, the underlying fat tissue, and reach to the muscle and/or bone of the area.
These burns destroy nerves, which can numb the area. They can also expose nerves, as well, which makes the pain severe.
When to See a Doctor
First- and second-degree burns can be treated at home with cold compresses, pain relievers, and soothing lotions.
If you believe you have a third- or fourth-degree burn, get to a doctor as soon as possible. These can cause permanent scarring and nerve damage. You may need skin grafts to heal the area as well.
You should also see a doctor if any of the following match your situation:
- You were burned with electricity or chemicals
- The burn is on your face, feet, groin, or hands
- The burn covers a large area
- Your burn looks charred, black, brown, or leathery
- You have deep burns
- You’re having difficulty breathing
- You think your burn is infected
Also, if your burn (no matter the degree) doesn’t heal in a couple of weeks, you should have it examined by a doctor.
Types of Burns and How to Respond to Them: Wrapping Up
All types of burns can result in redness and pain, but not all burns require medical attention. Save your time and money by knowing which burn types require medical care and which don’t.