Classification of burns

Most burns injuries are minor and do not require hospitalisation. Factors that affect the severity of a burn include the age of the person, the presence of burns to the face or respiratory tract (lungs), and of course, the depth of the burn. Burns can be classified into first degree (superficial), second degree (intermediate), or third degree (full-thickness) depending on the depth of injury to the skin and underlying structures.

First degree burns

In a first degree burn the injury is restricted to the most superficial layer of the skin. Nerve endings in this layer become exposed and the burn surface is painful. Blister formation is common. This kind of burn heals spontaneously within ten days if protected from infection by gentle washing regularly and sometimes covering with a clean sheet of gauze or cloth.

Second degree burns

In a second degree burn the skin is injured to a deeper layer than the first degree burn. Because of the extent of the damage, the burnt surface appears to you whitish (bloodless) and is painless as compared to the first degree burn. This is because the nerve endings that transmit the feeling of pain to the brain have been destroyed. Healing takes longer (three to four weeks) and occurs by scar formation.

Third degree burns

In a full-thickness or third degree burn, the whole layer of the skin and subcutaneous tissue is destroyed and the muscles, tendons or the bone underneath the skin may be visible. Healing occurs very slowly. Severe scarring is unavoidable. If third degree burns cover a large area of the body, death usually results from dehydration as fluids evaporate through the burnt skin, and infection enters through the burn.

Last modified: Tuesday, 15 July 2014, 9:51 PM