Rhode Island Burn Center
Rhode Island's Only Verified Burn Center

Types of Burns

A burn is damaged skin tissue caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight or nuclear radiation. Burns caused by scalds, building fires, flammable liquids and gases are most common.

Burns are divided into three different degrees, depending on how severe the damage is to the skin and its underlying tissues.

First Degree Burns

First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis. They cause pain, redness and swelling. First degree burns are treated primarily for comfort with local analgesics and pain medications. These usually heal within a week.

Second Degree Burns

These more serious burns are also called "dermal" or "partial thickness" burns. They affect both the outer and underlying layer of skin. They cause pain, redness, swelling and blistering. If the burns have open, raw surfaces, they should be cleaned frequently, changing the dressing and applying topical local antibiotics. Bandages must be changed very frequently (for this and all degrees of burns) to speed healing and prevent infections. The burn should heal within two to three weeks. In rare occasions, second degree burns may need a skin graft.

Third Degree Burns

Third degree, or "full thickness," burns are the most severe and extend into deeper skin tissues. They are characterized by white or blackened, charred skin. The dead skin will need to be replaced with a skin graft. Often, the graft is done immediately and the area is immobilized until the grafts are healed. While first and second degree burns are very painful, third degree burns are not usually because the nerves that supply the pain sensation are destroyed.

More about The Burn Center at Rhode Island Hospital