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Burn injuries are classified according to the extent and depth of the injury. Understanding the extent of the burn is essential to determining the need for treatment, including hospitalization.

The depth of the burn injury is classified as First, Second, or Third degree, and Partial or Full Thickness. First and Second degree burns are usually partial thickness in depth and will heal spontaneously. Third degree or full thickness injuries usually require skin grafting.

There are four degrees of burn injuries:

  1. First degree burns
  2. Superficial second degree burns
  3. Deep second degree burns
  4. Third degree burns

First Degree Burns
First degree burns usually affect the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis. A first degree burn tends to be moist, red in color and very painful. There are usually no blisters, and they often heal within seven days. The most common type of first degree burn is sunburn.

Superficial Second Degree Burns
A superficial second degree burn would be one that penetrates the entire epidermal layer of skin and extends to the deeper layer know as the dermis. Superficial burns involve only the outermost layer of the dermis, and are defined by extreme pain and hypersensitivity to touch. Pressure on a second degree burn tends to produce red blanches. The burn is characterized as moist and pinkish in color. A superficial second degree burn should also heal spontaneously, often within two weeks.

Deep Second Degree Burns
Deep burns destroy tissue into the deeper layers of the dermis A burn of this nature will be dry and whitish in color. It will not produce red blanches with the application of pressure. A burn of this nature can take three to four weeks on average to heal. There is a risk that a deep second degree burn will leave thick or hypertrophic scars. These burns penetrate more deeply into the skin and destroy all layers of the epidermis and several layers of the dermis. These burns are usually categorized as superficial or deep.

Third Degree Burns
The most severe classification is the third degree burn. This occurs when the burn has destroyed both the epidermal and dermal layers of skin and extends down to what is termed subcutaneous tissue. These burns are characterized as physically depressed, charred, and often leather like in appearance. Ironically, a third degree burn may not be as physically painful as the less severe categorizations, due to the amount of nerve endings that may have been destroyed. These burns are very serious in nature and often require skin grafting or other reconstructive procedures.

Burn Injuries & Trauma / Shock
Causes of Burn Injury
Methods of Burn Injury
Degrees of Burn Injury
How to Determine Severity of a Burn

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