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Facts on Burns

  • Heat, chemical, or electrical injury to the skin, nerves, blood vessels, and internal organs can cause burns.
  • Burns that involve the hands, face, feet, genitals, or cover an extremity (arm or leg) or the chest are particularly dangerous.
  • This article is designed as an introduction to burns; there are books and special journals devoted to burned patient's and their care; we urge the reader to visit the first two references below for additional information.

Burn Types and Symptoms

Patient Comments

The severity of a burn determines the symptoms a person who is burned experiences.

  • First-degree burns cause red skin and local pain only. Sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn.
  • Second-degree burns cause blisters and have more pronounced swelling. The skin may slough (peel).
  • Third-degree burns cause white or black charred skin and loss of pain sensitivity (insensate) because of nerve damage in the deeper tissues. When encompassing (completely around) an extremity (arm or leg), these burns can constrict and cut off circulation, leading to limb loss.
  • "Burn or smoke-exposed" patients may develop shortness of breath; inhalation of smoke and toxins may cause death, even if they have little or no skin burns. This shortness of breath is a medical emergency, even in people that have little or no skin or mucus membrane burns.
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Burns:

Burns: Symptoms

What were the symptoms of your first-degree burns?

Burns: Treatment

How to treat your second-degree burns, please share your experience.

Burns: Experience

Please describe your experience with different burns types.

Person with burns

Thermal Burns Symptoms

All thermal burns (from fire or flame) cause an injury to the different layers of the skin.

The skin is made up of three important layers:

  1. Bthe epidermis (or the outer layer),
  2. the dermis, and
  3. the subcutaneous tissues.

Each corresponds roughly to the types of burns. (It is important to note that many burn injuries may include all three types of burns at the same time.)

  • Superficial burn or first degree burn
  • Painful, red, area turns white when touched, no blisters, moist
  • Partial thickness burn or second degree burn
  • Superficial symptoms and signs
  • Deep symptoms and signs
  • Full thickness burn or third degree burn
  • Painless, no sensation to touch, pearly white or charred, dry, may appear leathery

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Burns, Thermal »

Burn injuries account for an estimated 700,000 annual emergency department (ED) visits per year.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary