1st, 2nd and 3rd Degree Burns

1st, 2nd and 3rd Degree Burns

Burn injuries are mainly classified into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree burns. The following write-up provides information on the symptoms and treatment of such injuries.
A burn is a type of skin injury that occurs due to contact with chemicals, radiation, intense heat, or electricity. Burns are classified into first, second, and third degree burns. This classification is based on the extent to which the skin gets damaged. First degree burns are minor burns in which the damage is restricted to the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). Second degree burns are characterized by damage to the epidermis and the dermis (deep inner layer that lies below the epidermis). A third degree burn is characterized by damage to the subcutaneous tissue that lies under the dermis. At times, the injury may be so severe that it not only affects the skin, but also the underlying tissues, ligaments, muscles, or bones. Such injuries are referred to as fourth degree burns.

Causative Factors

Thermal Burns: Thermal burns occur when the skin is exposed to a heat source. Such injuries are usually caused by contact with fire, steam, hot objects, hot/molten liquids, or hot metals.

Chemical Burns: These injuries occur when the skin comes in contact with certain chemicals. These chemicals could be in solid, liquid, or gaseous form. Household cleaning agents may contain caustic chemicals that may cause such an injury. Those who work in industries that involve the use of acids or caustic chemicals are at a greater risk of developing such injuries.

Radiation Burns: Prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun or other sources of radiation can also cause damage to the skin. Radiation burns could be caused due to the use of tanning beds. Those who are undergoing radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer are also susceptible.

Electrical Burns: As the name suggests, these burns are caused due to contact with a source of electricity. The extent of damage to the skin will vary depending on the duration of exposure, intensity of the current, and the type of current.

Besides the aforementioned causes, burns could also be caused by contact with a hard or an abrasive surface. The heat generated by friction may irritate the skin. Such injuries are called friction burns. Breathing in gases or hot air can also give rise to inhalation injuries. These injuries could damage the airways or the lungs. Serious complications could occur if the inhaled gases are toxic in nature.

Classification of Burns

When it comes to the classification of these injuries, the depth of the injury and the percentage of the total body surface area affected by the injury are considered to be the determining factors. The extent of damage also depends on the duration for which the skin remains in contact with the causative factor behind the injury.

First Degree Burns

First degree burns are minor burns that usually occur due to a brief contact with fire or a hot object. These are also referred to as superficial burn injuries. The recovery is much faster as the injury only involves the outer layer of the skin. Mild sunburn is an example of this type of injury.

The signs and symptoms of a first degree burn include:


First degree burns may take around 4-6 days to heal completely. Healing begins once the affected skin turns dry and starts peeling. The treatment can be administered at home itself. Here are some remedies that may prove beneficial.

Soaking the affected area in cold water will certainly help.
Application of cold compresses will also provide relief.
Applying aloe vera gel can help soothe irritated skin.

Second Degree Burns

Second degree burns are categorized into superficial partial-thickness burns and deep partial-thickness burns. These are considered to be relatively more serious than first degree burns. In case of superficial partial-thickness burns, there is damage to the epidermis and the superficial portion of the dermis. Deep partial-thickness burns are characterized by damage to the epidermis and the deeper layers of the dermis. Contact with hot liquids, fire, or chemicals is likely to cause this type of injury.

The symptoms of a second degree burn include:

Formation of blisters on the affected area

These burns appear to be moist. The affected skin is quite sensitive to touch. Scarring could occur in case of deep-partial thickness burns.

If the injury occurs due to contact with a chemical that is in the form of a liquid, wash the affected area with water so as to remove the chemical. If the chemical is in a powdered form, gently brush it off with a clean cloth before rinsing the affected area with water. The following self-care measures can be followed:

Cold compresses can be applied on the skin affected by the injury.
Painkillers can be taken for alleviating pain.
A sterile wire gauze can be wrapped loosely around the burn.

Besides causing severe pain, second degree burns could also lead to formation of blisters. This can make the skin prone to infection. It would therefore be best to consult a doctor for appropriate treatment. The treatment usually involves debridement (removal of the damaged tissue). Covering the affected area with an appropriate dressing is also an important part of the treatment. This type of burn would take around a month to heal, but the duration of the recovery period could vary depending on the depth of the injury. The recovery period would be longer in case of a deep partial-thickness burn. In severe cases, skin grafting may be recommended.

Third Degree Burns

This is a serious type of burn that affects all the three layers of the skin. Such injuries could damage the nerve endings in the underlying tissues.

The skin changes that occur are quite similar to the ones that are seen in deep-partial thickness burns. The characteristic symptoms of this type of burn include:

Numbness in event of damage to the underlying tissues and nerves
Dry and leathery skin

Since this is a severe burn injury, medical attention must be sought immediately. Third degree burns that involve a large part of the body require hospitalization. Intravenous administration of fluids and antibiotics may be required. Skin grafting is mostly recommended in case of severe burns. The extent of skin and nerve damage would determine the time taken by the affected individuals to completely recover from such an injury, but it's a known fact that third degree burns usually take a very long time to heal.

Prompt medical attention is of utmost importance for anyone who has suffered from a severe burn. Recovery would be faster if medical help is provided immediately.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.