Determining the Severity of a Burn

Bandaged Hand

Your skin is more complex than it appears. It actually contains multiple layers of tissue, with a layer of fat beneath. An important measure of the severity of a burn is how deeply into your skin it penetrates:

  • A first-degree burn is the mildest type of burn. These tend to be painful and cause redness and swelling, but the outermost layer of skin remains in tact. If you press your fingertip to the burn, the affected skin may briefly turn pale. After a few days, the skin may begin to peel.
     
  • A second-degree burn is more serious. These burns affect both the epidermis (first layer of skin) and the dermis (second layer).  The skin may be even more painful and red, or it may have a blotchy appearance. Second-degree burns usually cause fluid-filled blisters to appear.  They can be minor or major depending on their size and location.
     
  • A third-degree burn is a serious injury that requires emergency medical care. This burn penetrates the entire thickness of your skin. The surface of the skin may appear charred or waxy white. However, the burn may not hurt because the nerves in the skin that detect pain may be destroyed. Third-degree burns damage tissue, but may also affect fat, muscle and bone.  In the most severe cases, these burns impair the skin’s ability to maintain fluid, heat and block infection. The doctors, nurses, and other providers who work in the emergency room are trained and equipped to handle serious burns.

Other factors can make some burns more of a threat to your health, such as:

  • Size
    A bigger burn is more of a concern than a small burn.
     
  • Location
    Burns on sensitive tissues – like your face or genitals – or on a large, very mobile joint such as your knee are more serious.
     
  • Cause
    Electrical burns require medical attention because the shock may cause internal damage, even if the burn doesn’t look worrisome.  When smoke inhalation accompanies a burn, difficult breathing may occur.           

The highly trained medical staff at the world-renowned Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center is equipped to provide the very best care possible after a burn injury. The Center is proud to offer state-of-the-art services including an Intensive Care Unit equipped to handle the most severe burn cases, as well as a Dedicated Intermediate Care Unit for patients with less severe burns. For more information about the Grossman Burn Center, please call our Burn Clinic at  (888) 676-2876.

The West Hills Hospital & Medical Center Emergency Services department also offers advanced and comprehensive emergency care services for burn patients.  Find out more by calling (818) 676-4000 today. 

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