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April 14 2021

A Guide to Burns: Types, Degrees, and Treatment Methods


Getting burned is right up there on the pain scale when it comes to injuries, and it is one of the most devastating conditions if the damage is severe. Most injuries may require first aid treatments, but serious burns require immediate medical attention so that they do not lead to infections, which may cause severe complications—all the more reason to be careful when handling fire or anything that can burn the skin.
 
To know more about burns, refer to this handy infographic.
 

 

Types of Burns 

Burns come in varying shapes and sizes and are also due to various causes.
 

1. Thermal burn

A thermal burn is the result of direct contact with a heat source. An open flame from a fireplace or a candle, scalding from hot liquids like coffee spills and steam, and touching a hot object like a pan fresh from the stove may result in this type of burn.

Getting thermal burns is very common. They make up almost 86% of burn patients who require burn center admission in the U.S.
 

2. Friction burn 

Friction burns, a mix of abrasion and heat burns, occur when a hard object harshly scrapes the skin or when a surface repeatedly rubs on the skin. Carpet or rug burns are a usual case of friction burns. Motorcycle or bicycle accidents can also cause this when the rider harshly scrapes their skin onto the rough road surface. 
 
Friction burns are also quite common, but most patients do not see the need to seek medical attention as injuries are typically minor. 
 

3. Cold burn

Burns are not just caused by heat—low temperatures can burn the skin, as well. 
 
The freezing of the skin, which leads to skin tissue damage, results in cold burns or frostbites. Exposure to arctic temperatures can also be a culprit. A person can get cold burns when they stay at places with freezing temperatures. Direct contact with a cold object for a long time, like ice cubes, may also result in this type. 
 

4. Radiation Burn 

Almost two-thirds of cancer patients in the U.S. resort to radiation therapy for cancer treatment—85% of those patients experience skin irritations as side effects. 
 
Radiation burns or X-ray dermatitis are due to concentrated and high-energy X-ray beams from radiation therapy. These rays shrink down malignant tumors and destroy cancer cells. Recurrent sun exposure may also lead to radiation burns.
 
Frequent radiation therapy sessions may not allow the skin to regenerate. Eventually, these may lead to more severe skin irritations like sores or ulcers. Sunscreen can be used to lessen the risk of radiation burns. 
 

5. Electrical Burn 

The human body is highly susceptible to electricity. As a result, the United States accounts for nearly a thousand electricity-related deaths every year, with a 4.1% mortality rate. 
 
An electrical burn happens when electricity passes through the body. Electrical burns differ from other burns in that they cause subcutaneous damage—tissues beneath the skin also get burned. Hence, electrical burns are hard to diagnose and notice. As a result, afflicted patients tend to dismiss the severity of the burn. 
 

6. Chemical Burn 

Chemical burns, also called caustic burns, occur when a harsh irritant, like acid or base, comes in contact with the skin. Swallowed chemicals may also result in adverse reactions within the body, such as damages to the internal organs. 
 
Chemical burns can happen anywhere, whether at home, school, or work, such as when chemicals in laboratories or battery acids, bleach, and chlorine are mishandled.
 

Degree of Burns

All types of burns are grouped based on the severity of the damage inflicted on the skin. Doctors classify these burns into three categories. 
 

1. First Degree 

First-degree burns are minor injuries that do not typically require medical attention. These are also called superficial burns or wounds as they only damage the first layer of the skin. 
 
These burns only last for a few days. Symptoms include skin redness, mild to moderate pain, and swelling. While most first-degree burns are manageable, medical attention is immediately required if they affected a wide surface area of the skin.
 
Electrical burns may be mistaken as first-degree burns but are deceivingly harmful. Since they affect the subdermal skin layers, it is better to consult a doctor after an electrical accident. 
 

2. Second Degree 

Second-degree burns, also called partial thickness burns, are more severe than first-degree burns. They usually take several weeks to heal. This type affects the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin or the outer and second skin layers, respectively. 
 
Blisters and skin burns with irregular patterns are examples of second-degree burns. Patients usually experience intense pain or skin sensitivity. A patient who comes down with a fever after a burn may indicate an infection in the wound. 
 

3. Third Degree  

Third-degree or full-thickness burns destroy the epidermis and dermis. Patients who experience third-degree burns usually do not feel pain because the nerve endings have also been damaged. Other symptoms include dry, leathery skin and swelling.
 
Emergency rooms immediately attend to third-degree burn victims because it can be life-threatening. Burn medical centers specialize in severe burn injuries, offering a more professional medical treatment. 

 

First Aid Treatment of Burns

Burns can be treated to help in the process of healing and alleviate the pain. Here are several treatment methods to help address the damaging effects of burns. 
 

1. Carefully clean the wound with lukewarm water.

Cleaning the burn with lukewarm water promotes faster healing and lessens the risk of infections. Cooling the burn with water also eases the pain. 
 

2. Remove accessories that may cut into the burned skin.

Accessories may scrape or rub on the inflicted skin, further damaging the already sensitive skin tissues and worsening the wound. Unclean accessories may also infect the burned area. 
 

3. Apply topical antibiotic ointment.

The application of antibiotics helps prevent and treat skin infections by mitigating bacterial growth. Antibiotic ointments also aid the wound to heal faster. 
 

4. Take pain relievers. 

Patients with burned skin may experience moderate to extreme pain. When it becomes unbearable, pain relievers such as generic paracetamol and ibuprofen may alleviate the swelling. 
 

5. Bandage the burned area. 

Wrapping a sterile gauze bandage loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin. This keeps air off the area, reduces pain, and protects the blistered skin. 
 

6. Apply moisturizer or aloe vera. 

Keeping the skin moisturized minimizes inflammation while the burn heals. Aloe vera is an anti-inflammatory ingredient that inhibits bacterial growth on the wound. 
 

7. Protect the area from the sun. 

Once the burn heals, avoid sun exposure by seeking shade or applying sunscreen with SPF 30 or above. The sun’s harmful UV rays often contribute to scarring. The redness from a burn can persist for weeks, especially in those with lighter skin tones.
 

8. Seek professional medical help.  

Home burn remedies can alleviate first-degree burns. However, second and third-degree burns require immediate medical attention since they are more severe. 
 

Never Play with Fire

Fire is one of the four major elements and a symbol of man’s ingenuity; however, it can also be an instrument of destruction when not handled properly. Always be careful when working around materials or objects that may cause burns since. Burns are painful and may lead to complications when treated improperly. Professional medical help is always vital for making a full recovery. 
 
For the immediate treatment of burns and other medical emergencies, make Makati Medical Center your hospital of choice.