Worldwide over 11 million burns a year require medical attention, over 300,000 of them resulting in death. When it comes to treating your burn properly, time is of the essence, so the importance of getting immediate medical attention for your burn is crucial. Not getting a burn properly treated can also lead to complications and infections ranging from pneumonia to respiratory failure. There are many different types and degrees of burns, they are as follows:


Thermal: Thermal burns occur from an external heat source that raises the temperature of tissues and skin causing charring and cell death. Burns from steam, hot liquids, hot metals, or open flames are considered thermal burns. Smoking accidents and heating devices are responsible for almost half of all house fires that result in death. Nearly half of all injuries in house fires are a result of trying to fight a fire, so it’s important to remember to protect yourself in the event of a fire.


Chemical: Chemical burns are a result of either strong acids or strong bases such as sulfuric acid, sodium hypochlorite, and halogenated hydrocarbons, that are commonly found in different household cleaning products. Almost a third of all burn-related deaths are caused by chemical burns, and are a result of the ingestion of hazardous chemicals.


Electrical: Electrical burns are categorized as high voltage burns (greater than or equal to 1000 volts), low voltage burns (less than 1000 volts), arc burns, or flash burns. Electrical burns can be a result of contact with electrical cords, power lines, short circuiting, electrified water, and in rare circumstances lightning. When the body comes in contact with the electric source it becomes part of the electric current, often times causing internal damage. This makes it hard to diagnose an electrical burn from the skin alone.


Radiation: Radiation burns are often caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, i.e. from a tanning booth or the sun, from ionizing radiation, i.e. from X-rays or radiation therapy, or from thermal radiation. The most common type of radiation burn is sunburn, which typically results in erythema, the hallmark redness of the skin that results from sunburn.


A common misconception is that there are only three degrees of burns. The reality is there are six; however most people will not survive burns past the fourth degree. Your burn is measured by certain degrees according to factors such as the depth of the burn and the appearance. The six degrees are described as follows:

1st Degree: Contact with hot water, a hot surface, or too much sun, are common causes for 1st degree burns. These burns are superficial and can cause a red swollen area around the burn, but not forming a blister. Usually, an average of 5 to 10 days is needed to heal 1st degree burns. Since the only area affected is the epidermis (top layer of skin), it is considered the least serious type of burnt, but can still be considerably painful.

2nd Degree: When a burn extends to the superficial (papillary) dermis and is of partial thickness, it is considered to be a 2nd degree burn. These burns are usually characterized by red, swollen blisters, and can cause moderate to severe pain. Due to the severity and depth of these burns, 2nd degree burns are more likely to become infected, so immediate attention is necessary for the healing process, which can take anywhere from one to three weeks.

3rd Degree: A 3rd degree burn is characterized as a severe burn with full thickness going through the entire skin, past all layers of the dermis. If treated immediately 3rd degree burns can be treated without needing amputation or skin grafting, but time is of the essence in preventing further complications or infection.

4th Degree: When a burn goes through all layers of the skin, and reaches the fat, muscle, or bone, they are considered 4th degree burns. These burns usually require some sort of amputation, skin grafting, and often even lead to death.

5th Degree: Not commonly heard of, 5th degree burns are usually diagnosed during autopsy. These burns have gone through the organs and to the bone, thus making a 5th degree burn victim’s chance of survival close to zero.

6th Degree: Another burn that is not commonly heard of since they are usually diagnosed during autopsy. A 6th degree burn will usually go as far as the bone, and through all organs, for this reason 6th degree burns are fatal.

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