Burns don't affect the skin uniformly, so a single injury can reach varying depths. Distinguishing a minor burn from a more serious burn involves determining the extent of tissue damage.

The following are three classifications of burns:

  • First-degree burn. This minor burn affects only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). It may cause redness, swelling and pain. It usually heals with first-aid measures within several days to a week. Sunburn is a classic example.
  • Second-degree burn. This type of burn affects both the epidermis and the second layer of skin (dermis). It may cause red, white or splotchy skin, pain, and swelling. And the wound often looks wet or moist. Blisters may develop, and pain can be severe. Deep second-degree burns can cause scarring.
  • Third-degree burn. This burn reaches into the fat layer beneath the skin. Burned areas may be charred black or white. The skin may look waxy or leathery. Third-degree burns can destroy nerves, causing numbness. A person with this type of burn may also have difficulty breathing or experience smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning.

When to see a doctor

Seek emergency medical assistance for:

  • Burns that cover the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, a major joint or a large area of the body
  • Deep burns, which means burns affecting all layers of the skin and even other tissues
  • Burns caused by chemicals or electricity
  • Difficulty breathing or burns to the airway

Minor burns can be cared for at home, but call your doctor if you experience:

  • Large blisters
  • Signs of infection, such as oozing from the wound, increased pain, redness and swelling
  • A burn or blister that doesn't heal in several weeks
  • New, unexplained symptoms
  • Significant scarring
Aug. 01, 2015