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Degrees of Burns: How To Treat Them and How They Affect Victims

The American Burn Association estimates that, in 2016, 486,000 people will sustain a burn injury bad enough that it requires medical treatment. Whether a burn injury requires medical treatment depends largely on the degree and size of the burn. Learn more about degrees of burns and how a burn can affect an accident victim.

What are the degrees of burns?

There are four types of burns, ranging from low seriousness to high: first-degree burns, second-degree burns, third-degree burns, and fourth-degree burns.

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are a minor type of burn because they only affect the top layer of the skin. These types of burns usually result from sudden and brief bursts of heat, like briefly touching a hot iron. Sunburn can also cause first degree burns.

First-degree burns result in red, non-blistered skin. The skin may become inflamed or swell and you may feel minor pain.

As the skin heals, it may feel dry or even begin peeling like with a bad sunburn. Your burn should heal within about a week and will not leave a scar.

You can usually treat a first-degree at home by:

  • Soaking the burn area in cool water (not cold)
  • Using over-the-counter medication for pain relief
  • Applying aloe vera gel (do not use burn cream unless your doctor advises you to do so)
  • Applying antibiotic ointment and loose gauze  

It is important to note that you should never use ice or cotton balls to take care of any burn, no matter the severity. Ice may ease the initial pain of a burn, but it drastically increases the time it takes for the burn to heal. Using cotton balls to clean a burn can leave small fibers stuck in the injury leading to infection.

Although first-degree burns usually heal on their own at home, if any of the following apply, you should see a doctor as soon as possible:

  • You are uncertain about the severity of your burns
  • They cover a large area of skin (more than three inches)
  • They occurred on your face, chest, buttocks, or genital region, or on a major joint (e.g., the elbow, knee, hip, or shoulder)

Second-Degree Burns

While a first-degree only affects the epidermis (first layer of skin), a second-degree breaks through that first layer to damage the dermis (second layer). These burns result from a longer exposure to heat or a longer contact with chemicals or electricity.

Second-degree burns result in blisters and usually some thickening of the skin. Skin will likely be sore with blisters developing over the burn. The severity of the burn determines the healing time; however, they usually take about two or three weeks.

For serious second-degree burns, skin grafting may be necessary. This is the process of taking skin from an unburnt area of your body and moving it to the burned area. Depending on the severity of your burn, you can treat some second-degree burns at home. For second-degree burns:

  • You must keep the burn clean and bandaged to avoid infection
  • Run it under cool water for 10 to 15 minutes or soak it for five minutes
  • Use over-the-counter pain medication
  • Apply ointment (do not use cream unless your doctor advises you to do so)

As with first-degree burns, never use ice or cotton balls to clean a burn. Furthermore, if the second-degree burn covers a widespread area, especially around the face, hands, buttocks, groin, or feet, you should see a doctor immediately.

Third and Fourth-Degree Burns

Third and fourth-degree burns are the most serious types of burns because they extend through every layer of the skin. Fourth-degree burns look like third-degree burns, but they extend even beyond the skin and into the tendons or bones.  

Third and fourth-degree burns result in a widespread thickness of the skin with a waxy white or charred brown color. The skin will have a raised leathery appearance and, depending on the cause, may have undeveloped blisters.

The pain may be severe in third-degree burns; however, in many third- and fourth-degree burns, there will be no pain at all because the injury destroyed your nerve endings.

If you suffer a third- or fourth-degree burn, see a doctor immediately.

While waiting to see the doctor, remove any clothing from the burn site and raise the burn above your heart, if possible. For both third- and fourth-degree burns, surgery is likely necessary to prevent severe scarring and contracture.

Contracture is the shortening or hardening of muscles or tendons which leads to deformity and rigidity in joints. Skin grafting may be also be necessary.

Complications of third and fourth-degree burns include infection, blood loss, and shock. Furthermore, with all degrees of burns, there is a risk of tetanus.  

What are common causes of burns?

Serious burns result from exposure to:

  • Hot or boiling liquids
  • Chemicals
  • Electricity
  • Fire
  • The sun
  • Flammable liquids and gasses

The severity of a burn depends on both what causes the burn and the amount of time the skin is in contact with the hot item or chemical.

The Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, PC Can Help

Serious burn injuries can leave you with severe deformity, inability to perform certain physical activities, and may even prevent you from being able to work. Do not ignore your legal options for compensation. If you suffered a burn injury as a result of another party’s negligence in Georgia, a burn injury lawyer can help you recover the compensation you need and deserve.

Call the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz today to schedule a consultation today: 404-474-0804. Jason will evaluate the value of your damages and work with you to get the maximum compensation possible. 


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