The Six Degrees of Burns
Burn injuries are often talked about in terms of degrees. The degree of the burn refers to the severity of the injury. Proper treatment depends on accurately describing the severity of the burn. There are six different degrees of burns. Most often we hear about first, second or third degree burns because it is very difficult to survive a fourth, fifth or sixth degree burn.
First Degree Burns
First-degree burns usually result in redness to the top layers of the skin. The skin may feel warm and painful to the touch. There are many causes of first-degree burns including hot water from the sink and sunburn.
Most first-degree burns can be treated at home. First, run the burned area under cold water. Then apply a soothing cream, such as aloe, to the burn and cover with a loose gauze bandage. Over the counter pain killers might be useful to ease discomfort.
Second Degree Burns
A burn that results in red, blistering skin is a second-degree burn. The deeper layers of the skin are affected with this degree of injury and the victim is usually in significant pain. Second-degree burns can be caused by flames, chemicals, hot liquids and other catalysts.
While some second-degree burns can be treated at home, the pain is usually significant enough to warrant a trip to the doctor or hospital. In addition, victims of second-degree burns might be at risk of shock so they need to be closely monitored. The burn should be treated similarly to a first-degree burn, however it is important to prevent infection in the blisters and therefore an antiseptic ointment is often advised.
Third Degree Burns
Third-degree burns go all the way through the skin. The most common causes of this severe injury are electricity, chemicals and fire. Skin that has been damaged by a third degree burn may appear black or white. The nerve endings have been destroyed so the affected area might not hurt but the area adjacent to it will likely hurt. A burn of this severity may cause the victim to go into shock.
Third-degree burns require medical treatment as quickly as possible and usually require hospitalization. The patient will need IV fluids, antibiotics and likely prescription pain medication. The patient also may need help breathing. The burns will be cleaned and antiseptic ointment will be applied and covered with loose bandages. The bandages should be changed regularly. Some patients are put into high oxygen rooms called hyperbaric chambers. The dead tissue in the burned area is removed surgically. Skin grafts may also be used to replace the burned skin with healthy skin. Third degree burns often result in scarring.
Fourth Degree Burns
Fourth-degree burns damage not only all of the skin in the burned area but also the underlying muscle, tendon and ligament. Very often fourth degree burns are fatal. If a patient survives a fourth degree burn then skin grafting is essential.
Fifth and Sixth Degree Burns
Fifth and sixth degree burns are most often diagnosed during an autopsy. The damage goes all the way to the bone and everything between the skin and the bone is destroyed. It is unlikely that a person would survive this type of injury but if a miracle occurred then amputation of the affected area would be necessary.