What are burns?

Alfa O. Diallo, MD
Alfa O. Diallo, MD on behalf of MDLIVE
Emergency Medicine

Burns are injuries that disrupt the protective and regulatory processes of the skin. Most burns are thermal and occur when skin is exposed to temperatures over 115 degrees. Various factors determine the severity of a burn, including the intensity of heat, size of the exposed surface, and amount of time one is exposed to the heat. Burns can be classified in the following manner:

First degree - Superficial burn that involves the outermost layer of dead skin cells (the epidermis). This is classically seen with sunburns and usually heals without scarring.
Superficial second degree - A burn which involves the upper layer of living skin cells (dermis). These types of burns result in blistering and reveal tender tissue (dermis) that still appears pink. Often these also heal without scarring.
Deep second degree - A burn which involves deeper layers of living skin cells (dermis). Unlike superficial second degree burns, the dermis that appears is white and often heals with scarring.
Third degree- Full thickness burns that involve tissues such as nerves, tendons, vessels and fat beneath the dermis. Such burns are very serious and often require surgical intervention to allow for proper healing.

Burns are tissue injuries. They are most often caused by heat (like fire or hot water), which is known as a thermal burn. Other types of burns include chemical burns, electrical burns, and radiation burns. Burns can vary in severity, and are referred to as first-, second-, or third-degree. First-degree burns are the least severe, while third-degree are the most severe. However, third-degree burns are actually not normally painful because the burn has killed the nerves that signal pain.

Burns happen when the skin touches heat, chemicals or electricity. They are ranked by how deep they are in the skin.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.