Burns in households are common. From getting a burn from scalding water or steam to getting burned by a fireplace or even a chemical burn from a car battery, burns are no laughing matter. Knowing the difference between the types of burns can help you decide whether to seek medical treatment, or whether you can treat the burn safely at home. Here are the signs of the different types of burns.
A 1st degree burn is the most mild burn, and only effects the first layer of skin, meaning no blistering of the skin after burning. Rather, the skin will feel pain and turn red and possibly swell, but cool water on the burn site should be all that is needed. 1st degree burns are common in water burns, like running straight water from the tub onto a wandering hand. These burns usually heal within a few days, with the layer of skin that was burned sloughing off as it makes way for new healthy skin to replace it.
A 2nd degree burn is more serious. This burn differs from a first degree burn because the skin will blister as a result, in addition to becoming red and swollen. The pain is severe, and the blisters often burst. Since this is a burn that goes into the 2nd layer of skin (common in boiling water burns or in burning oneself with a hot glue gun or touching a hot stove), these burns can take a few weeks to heal, but often respond very well to cool water and a disinfecting anti-inflammatory ointment to keep infection and swelling of the burn site at bay while the wound heals.
A 3rd degree burn is the most devastating of the 3 burns, and is quite different in appearance than the previous degrees of burns. A 3rd degree burn goes into all the layers of skin and even underlying tissues, and can cause nerve damage. 3rd degree burns are severe in occurrence, typically caused by fire, chemicals, or severe exposure to heat and require immediate medical attention. In the case of a 3rd degree burn, the skin looks dry and becomes discolored in the affected area, looking leathery and whitish, brown, or charred looking (think of a cooking marshmallow). The burn may not hurt at all at first, or feel very little pain in the affected area due to nerve damage. Often, the burn area feels numb. These wounds need immediate emergency care, and take a long time to heal. Often, 3rd degree burns and even severe 2nd degree burns require skin grafts to help the area heal successfully. Applying cool water to the burn site to protect it from further heat damage is helpful while waiting for emergency care.
In the event of a burn, even a 1st degree burn can feel and look like a huge deal. Knowing the difference between the types of burns can help to determine how serious the damage really is- but if in doubt, always seek the care of medical professionals rather than handling a burn yourself entirely.