What Is the Difference Between a 2nd & 3rd Degree Burn?

By Yvonne Glasgow

Burns are some of the most common skin injuries. Burns can result from fire, working with chemicals or electrical materials, or by spending too much time in the sun, among other reasons. There are three classifications of burns: first-degree, second-degree and third-degree. Second- and third-degree burns are the most dangerous, and each type of burn has its own set of identifying characteristics.

Burns are some of the most common skin injuries. Burns can result from fire, working with chemicals or electrical materials, or by spending too much time in the sun, among other reasons. There are three classifications of burns: first-degree, second-degree and third-degree. Second- and third-degree burns are the most dangerous, and each type of burn has its own set of identifying characteristics.

Second-Degree Burn Characteristics

Second-degree burns occur when a burn goes through the first layer of skin and into the second layer of skin, known as the dermis. Second-degree burns, unlike first-degree burns, will blister. Third-degree burns are partial-thickness burns, meaning they appear red and splotchy. Second-degree burns are very painful and produce swelling. This type of burn damages sweat glands, hair follicles and the sebaceous glands, but does not cause complete destruction of the dermis. Because of this extensive damage, second-degree burns are very painful and result in fluid loss.

Second-Degree Burn Treatment

A second-degree burn takes two to three weeks to heal. Apply cold water to the burned area. A person suffering from a second-degree burn should also be treated for shock. If the burn is severe, seek medical attention. A common second-degree burn is a sunburn. Do not break the blisters of the burn.

Third-Degree Burn Characteristics

Third-degree burns are full-thickness burns, destroying both the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin. Tissue death continues into the subcutaneous tissue and can damage muscle and bone. Skin with a third-degree burn will look white or charred. People suffering from a third-degree burn often don't feel the pain of the burn initially because the nerve endings in the burn area have been destroyed. Third-degree burns cause a large loss of fluid and are at a great risk of infection.

Third-Degree Burn Treatment

Third-degree burns take a very long time to heal and can result in permanent scarring and nerve damage. To treat a third degree burn, cover the burned area with a sterile cloth and check for symptoms of shock: clammy skin, shallow breathing, uncharacteristically-low blood pressure, and bluish lips and fingernails. Do not remove charred clothing from the burn or apply ice to the burn -- doing either could cause a burn victim to go into shock. If possible, elevate the burn victim's feet to keep blood flowing to vital organs. Call for an ambulance immediately and notify the operator if the burn victim is showing signs of shock.

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