There are three types of burns: first, second and third degrees. This categorization of burns is in relation to the layers of skin affected by the heating element. A first degree burn is a mild burn on the first layer of skin, or epidermis. A second degree burn has occurred once the first and second layers of the skin are damaged, and a third degree burn occurs beyond that.
First Degree Burns
The simplest and most harmless of burns, a first degree burn can occur by staying out in the sun unprotected for too long, touch the stove or even from making contact with a hot leather car seat.
Characteristics: First degree burns usually leave a bright pink or red color on the skin, while no blistering takes place. The pain seems intense because the first layer of skin is very sensitive, however the treatment and recovery is quick and simple. There is typically mild swelling and a mild to medium pain with a first degree burn, as well as an itching sensation.
Treatment: For first degree burns, it is important to use clean water, preferably warm as cold water can make a burn worse in some cases, to neutralize the pain and keep the skin clean to avoid any infection. However, since there are no blisters or deep wounds involved with first degree burns, the chances for infection are slim. To manage the pain, use a topical lotion or ointment like aloe vera or Mycitracin to keep swelling down and return comfort.
Aspirin and ibuprofen are also recommended. With most first degree burns, medical attention is rarely necessary, unless the burn is covering a substantial area of the body.
Second Degree Burns
The difference between a first degree burn and second degree burn is that your skin stays mostly intact with the former. One of the key characteristics of a second degree burn is the breaking of your first layer of skin in the form of blistering and even bubbling as the secondary (papillary) layer of skin is breached and damaged.
Characteristics: Second degree burns feature red skin, as well as the visibility of the exposed papillary dermis. There is blistering involved with this stage of burns, which leads to the presence of white fluids within the blisters and on the exposed secondary skin. There is a greater deal of pain involved with second degree burns, as two layers of skins have been compromised.
Treatment: The key to treating a second degree burn is caution. Just like with a first degree burn, you should run warm water over a second degree burn for a few minutes to clean the wound and also to help reduce the pain and swelling. However, a common mistake that is made in treating second degree burns is the use of ice as a remedy. An ice pack can actually make the wound worse, potentially causing frostbite.
After treating the wound with water, use sterile gauze to cover it, but make sure that if you have a blister that you do not break it. Breaking open any blisters can lead to an infection. And while you might use a topical cream on a first degree burn, do not use them on a second degree burn. They can actually impede the healing progress.
If your second degree burn is larger than two or three inches in diameter, though, medical attention is required. Additionally, if you tan regularly and you have a scar from a second degree burn, it is important to pay extra attention to that area when applying sunscreen. Ignoring this could lead to awkward skin coloration.
A third degree burn is the most severe stage of injury, as all layers of skin are likely to have been damaged, as well as muscles, tendons, ligaments and possibly organs. Generally a third degree burn will affect the reticular dermis, which is the deepest layer of skin, however the term “fourth degree” has been attributed to the actual damage of tissues. Regardless, any burn beyond a second degree is technically classified as a third degree burn and will require serious medical attention.
Characteristics: With third degree burns, the coloration of the skin is closer to a white hue as the wound gets deeper. However, as first and second degree burns are painful in nature, third degree burns are not, due to the serious damage done to the nerves. Because of this painless characteristic, third degree burns are incredibly dangerous in regard to timing, as they can lead to shock and ultimately death.
Treatment: Third degree burns require immediate emergency medical attention. Burn recovery will require sterile environment s as the possibility of infection is high, especially with tetanus. Scarring is a certainty and in almost all cases of third degree burns it is necessary for the victim to receive skin grafts.