The treatment of burns depends on the depth, area and location of the burn. Burn depth is generally categorized as first, second or third degree. A first degree burn is superficial and has similar characteristics to a typical sun burn. The skin is red in color and sensation is intact. In fact, it is usually somewhat painful. Second degree burns look similar to the first degree burns; however, the damage is now severe enough to cause blistering of the skin and the pain is usually somewhat more intense. In third degree burns the damage has progressed to the point of skin death. The skin is white and without sensation.
Quick GuideFirst Aid: Properly Caring for Wounds
Introduction to burns
The skin has an important role to play in the fluid and temperature
regulation of the body. If enough skin area is injured, the ability to maintain that control can be lost. The skin also acts as a protective barrier against the bacteria and viruses that inhabit the world outside the body.
The anatomy of the skin is complex, and there are many structures within the layers of the skin. There are three layers:
- Epidermis, the outer layer of the skin
- Dermis, made up of collagen and elastic fibers and where nerves, blood vessels, sweat glands, and hair follicles reside.
- Hypodermis or subcutaneous tissue, where larger blood vessels and nerves are located. This is the layer of tissue that is most important in temperature regulation.
The amount of damage that a burn can cause depends upon its location, its depth, and how much body surface area that it involves.
How are burns classified?
Burns are classified based upon their depth.
A first degree burn is superficial and causes
local inflammation of the skin. Sunburns often are categorized as first degree burns. The inflammation is characterized by pain, redness, and a mild amount of swelling. The skin may be
very tender to touch.
Second degree burns are deeper and in addition to the pain, redness and inflammation, there is also blistering of the skin.
Third degree burns are deeper still, involving all layers of the skin, in effect killing that area of skin. Because the nerves and blood vessels are damaged, third degree burns appear white and leathery and tend to be relatively painless.
Burns are not static and may mature. Over a few hours a first degree burn may involve deeper structures and become second degree. Think of a sunburn that
blisters the next day. Similarly, second degree burns may evolve into third degree burns.
Regardless of the type of burn, inflammation and fluid accumulation in and around the wound occur. Moreover, it should be noted that the skin is the body's first defense against infection by microorganisms. A burn is also a break in the skin, and the risk of infection exists both at the site of the injury and potentially throughout the body.
Only the epidermis has the ability to regenerate itself. Burns that extend deeper may cause permanent injury and scarring and not allow the skin in that area to return to normal function.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/20/2015