What's the Difference Between First and Third Degree Burns? And Other Facts About Burn Severity and Treatment

I blogged earlier this week about how common burn injuries are and the many different ways in which people can become burn victims, but that is not all there is to say about burns. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from burns every year in this country, and of them, only a fraction require hospitalization. What, then, is the difference?

The difference, in short, is the severity of the burn. Burn severity is determined by several different factors, including the age and overall health of the burn victim, the depth of the burn and the percentage of the body that it covers. Obviously, if a young adult in good health receives a small, shallow burn, that is an entirely different situation than if a small child is burnt moderately over much of his body, or if an elderly person receives deep burns to her hand and arm.

Many of us have heard terms like "first degree burns" or "third degree burns," but we do not know exactly what they mean, or what difference that makes when discussing treatment. Understanding the skin is the first step to understanding the different degrees of burn damage and how they are judged. The skin is made up of several different layers. The epidermis, on top, is the outer surface of the skin which we see. Underneath the epidermis is the dermis, a stronger, more durable layer. Unlike the epidermis, the dermis has its own blood supply and contains nerve endings which allow for sensation. Hair follicles and sweat glands are active in the dermis layer of skin. Below that is another fatty layer, which nerves and blood vessels pass through to get to the skin.

A first degree burn affects the first layer of skin, the epidermis, only. There may be redness, hotness, and some pain, but there is no swelling or blistering. A sunburn is an example of a very common type of first degree burn. First degree burns may be painful, but not intensely so. Many people would do no more than run this type of burn under cold water or apply a lotion or cream to it. Second degree burns are more severe and in most cases, substantially more painful.

Second degree burns involve both the epidermis and the dermis, and leave the skin blistered, moist or oozing. Second degree burns may call for medical assistance, depending on how much of the body they have damaged. Doctors recommend not removing clothing around the burnt area, and seeking medical assistance quickly in the case of many of these burns. It is not advised to put lotion, oils or creams on these burns on your own, as that may do more damage. Adhesive bandages are discouraged, also because of the risk of farther damage.

Third degree burns involve all the layers of skin, and so-called fourth degree burns involve all of the skin, as well as the muscle and bone underneath. In third or fourth degree burns, the affected area will no longer be familiar light red, but instead may be white, cherry red, black, yellow or brown. If someone has suffered a third or fourth degree burn, then 911 should be contacted immediately for quick medical treatment.

If you or someone you love has been wrongfully injured in a fire due to negligence or product malfunction, then contact an experienced Atlanta, Georgia personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.