Burns (by degree)

A burn is a tissue injury. Most commonly they are caused by excessive heat that comes in direct or indirect contact with the skin.

Another type of burn is the chemical burn where a chemical substances that come in contact with the skin is the cause of tissue damage and destruction.

Burns are classified by the amount of tissue affected (the surface area) and the depth to which the tissue damage penetrates (layers of skin, fat, muscle affected).

First Degree Burn:

A first-degree burn is one that affects only the epidermis, the top layer of the skin. This is the least serious type of burn.

Common causes of first degree burns:

  • brief contact with either dry or moist heat, a thermal burn, (hot water)
  • chemicals (such as cement)
  • spending too much time in the sun (sunburn)
  • friction (such as by rubbing the skin against a rug or rope)

First Degree Burn Symptoms:

Skin is:

  • red (erythema)
  • sore
  • sensitive to the touch
  • may also be moist, slightly swollen, or itchy
  • Sunburns are often accompanied by headache and low fever.
  • Skin blanches, reddened area whitens when pressed.
  • First-degree burns do not blister and do not leave a scar.

Second Degree Burn:

A Second-degree burn is one that involves the epidermis and part of the dermis layer of skin.

Second Degree Burn Symptoms:

Skin is:

  • red (erythema)
  • blistered (bulla)
  • painful
  • possible swelling

Common Causes of Second-degree burns:

  • heat
  • cold (liquid nitrogen)
  • electricity (burns due to contact with an electrical current)
  • chemicals
  • light
  • radiation (burns due to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, or to other sources of radiation such as x-ray.)
  • friction

Third Degree Burn:

A third degree burn is one that destroy the epidermis and the dermis. Third degree burns may extend deeper than the dermis into the subcutis the deepest layer of skin; consists of collagen and fat cells.

Third Degree Burn Symptoms:

Skin is:

  • white
  • charred black.
  • There is no sensation in the area, because the nerves have been irreparably destroyed


Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center . 2004. Burns: FIrst Degree. Retrieved July 14, 2009 from http://www.hmc.psu.edu/healthinfo/b/burns1.htm

University of Rochester Medical Center. 2009. Glossary – Burns. Retrieved July 14, 2009 from http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.cfm?pageid=P01745 


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