Symptoms and Signs of Thermal (Heat or Fire) Burns

Doctor's Notes on Thermal (Heat or Fire) Burns

Thermal burns occur when the body is exposed to fire and/or heat. The signs and symptoms of thermal burns depend upon how extensive skin is affected. Currently, burns are described as to what skin layer is affected. The following describes the signs and symptoms of thermal burns: superficial burn or 1st burn; skin is painful and red - no blisters but skin turns white when touched - mainly the epidermis is involved, partial thickness burns or 2nd burn; painful red areas of skin that turned white when touched, blister formation, hair may still be present on the skin - the epidermis and the dermis layer of skin is involved, and full thickness burns or 3rd burn; painless, no sensation to touch, skin area may be whitish or charred dry and have leathery appearance. All three layers of skin (epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue) is involved. In severe full thickness burns, muscle tissue and/or bone may be observed.

Thermal burns are caused by exposure to heat sources such as sunlight or hot items like an electric stove burner or direct flames like seen in a house fire. The severity of the thermal burn depends on how hot and how long of time the skin is exposed to the heat source. Any partial thickness burn that is larger than your hand’s palm should be seen by medical caregiver. Any full-thickness burn is considered a medical emergency. Any partial or full thickness burn on the genitals, eyes, ears, hands, feet or joints should be seen by emergency caregivers no matter what size they are.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.