Types of burns

Burns can be caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, and just about anything else. Many burns, including 2nd and 3rd Degree burns, can be fatal to the largest organ in the body, the skin. Burns that involve a larger surface area of the body can be fatal. Any burn injury over 15% of the Total Body Surface Area (TBSA) can affect every organ in the body. Burns also affect body temperature, body fluids, dexterity, and physical appearance. Burn injuries can have far-reaching psychological consequences and are often accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

First Degree Burns

First-degree burns are common and, in some cases, can be severe. First-degree burns affect the outer layer of skin, the epidermis. Indicators of a first-degree burn are swelling, pain, tingling, and sensitivity of the skin in the wound area. The burn injury area will also be red and the skin is usually dry. Scald burns, including from beverages like hot tea or hot coffee, or from hot water, can cause first-degree burns. 

Second Degree Burns

Second-degree burns are “partial thickness” burns. The second-degree burn is an injury to both the epidermis (outer layer of skin) and the underlying layer of skin known as the dermis. These second-degree burns are extremely painful; a second-degree burn looks wet or “weeping.” Second-degree burns are very red, swollen, and often blistered. Scalding liquids, flames, and flash fires cause second-degree burns. Household chemicals can also cause second-degree burns. 

Third Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are serious, life-changing injuries. With a third-degree burn, the entire thickness of the skin including the underlying muscle tissue is affected hair follicles are destroyed. Nerve damage is common with third-degree burns, and, as a result, third-degree burns may not be initially painful. Sometimes, a third-degree burn is a leathery black color; it can also be extremely red. Third-Degree burns must be treated by a qualified burn center or burn doctor—they are very serious injuries. Skin grafting, using either skin from a donor site or porcine grafting, is used to treat third-degree burns. These injuries are also prone to infection; careful attention must be paid to third-degree burn wound care. There are many causes of third-degree burns, but these are often caused by large fires and explosions, and any other “high energy” fire. Third-degree burns will, necessarily, affect other organ systems, and are often accompanied by tragic circumstances, leading to PTSD, that require psychological care.  

Fourth Degree Burns

Fourth-degree burns are life-threatening. These are “full-thickness” burns, the damage reaches to the bone, and burned skin is permanently lost. With a fourth-degree burn, the skin falls off the wound area, called “sloughing.” Burned limbs are sometimes so burned that amputation is required. Causes of fourth-degree burns include high-voltage electric shock, fuel-fed fires, propane explosions, industrial plant explosions, and house fires.

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