Different Degrees of Burns – And When You Should See a Doctor
If you’ve ever burned your skin severely, be it from a pot on the stove or an afternoon at the beach, chances are you remember it. Some 450,000 burn injuries occur in the U.S. each year that require medical attention, with 40,000 of those requiring a hospital stay. So what should you do if you do burn yourself, and how bad does it have to be before you should seek medical attention?
First Degree Burn
Relatively minor, but can be irritating, to be sure. Only the outer layer of skin is affected, and presents as dry, red, and painful to the touch. However, usually there are no blisters (think of a mild sunburn). It’s a superficial injury that lasts just a few days, after which the skin may start to peel. Usually lotions or a cold compress is best for pain relief, although Ibuprofen may help, also. You should be able to take care of this burn at home.
Second Degree Burn
More severe than a first degree burn, this one involves injury to both the epidermis (outmost layer of skin) and the thicker dermis, which is the next layer down. The visible redness of the affected area is a much deeper color, the skin is painful to the touch, and it may even appear wet or shiny. Blisters are almost certain at this stage, but you don’t want them to pop if you can help it. Seeing your physician is recommended, as antibiotics, daily cleaning to remove dead skin, and frequent bandage changes are needed for the burn to heal. Flames, short duration contact with hot objects, and scalding liquids are most often the cause of second degree burns. If the size and of the burn area is not more than about 10% of the body, an outpatient facility can probably take care of treatment.
Third Degree Burn
Critical damage that ravages both the epidermis and dermis layers of skin, and in more severe cases, the fat, muscle, and bone underneath. Scalding liquid, flame, hot objects, chemical, and electrical burns can all be severe enough to cause third degree burns. The skin may be blackened, brown, or yellow, and leathery. Swelling may be significant, but often pain is not as bad since the nerves have also been burned away. Severity and area of the burn will determine its specific treatment, but expect a very slow healing process under close medical supervision. Skin grafts and reconstructive surgery may also be required.