Published on March 22, 2022 at 12:47

A burn is defined as an injury that causes lesions or the destruction of skin or subcutaneous structures. Based on the severity, burns fall into three categories, which are first-degree, second-degree and third-degree burns, represented by various manifestations.

Several factors can cause a burn, including heat, friction, fire, cold, chemicals, sun and many more. In most cases, a burn can be treated at home. However, an advanced degree of burn (a deep second-degree or third-degree) requires urgent medical intervention.

The following article provides more information about the different degrees of burns, including causes, treatments and symptoms.

Burn levels

Tout d’abord, il faut comprendre que les degrés de brûlures sont essentiels pour un traitement adéquat. En effet, identifier adéquatement la brûlure permet d’éviter des infections ou autres complications plus graves.

First-degree burn

A first-degree burn is the most superficial type of burn. It affects only the epidermis and leaves no scars on the skin. However, it is important to understand the causes and symptoms to better treat it.

What are the symptoms of a first-degree burn?

A burning sensation and superficial pain are two of the main signs of a first-degree burn. However, these last only a few hours – and sometimes up to a few days (3 to 5 days).

The skin appears redder and may even swell slightly in response to the phenomenon of vasodilation, which is an increase in the diameter of the superficial blood vessels.

It’s not uncommon for an itch to accompany the redness. The skin’s surface may also be drier and rougher and begin to flake or peel in the following days.

What can cause a first-degree burn and how can it be treated?

Among the most common causes of first-degree burns are:

  • Exposure to UV rays (sunburn)
  • Friction/rubbing
  • Contact with heat or cold
  • Contact with a chemical
  • Electric shock

In order to minimize unwanted effects like the burning sensation, you can apply a moisturizing cream or ointment. It is also advisable to place the affected area under cold water for 15 minutes to relieve the pain.

Second-degree burn

The appearance of blisters or cracked skin are tell-tale signs of a second-degree burn. The latter is separated into two sub-categories: superficial second-degree and deep second-degree. Essentially, they manifest differently and require appropriate treatment - a deep second-degree burn is a medical emergency.

In both cases, it remains imperative to assess the size of the burn. If it exceeds a diameter of 2.5 cm, a medical consultation is strongly recommended.

What are the symptoms of a second-degree burn?

Superficial second-degree burn

  • Blisters appear immediately or within hours
  • Very intense, localized pain
  • Very red skin
  • Localized swelling

Deep second-degree burn

  • Very slight pain, meaning the nerve endings have been burnt
  • White skin: blood no longer circulates in the burnt area because the vessels have been burned

What can cause a second-degree burn and how is it treated?

There are several causes of second-degree burns. However, some are more common, such as:

  • Contact with a very hot surface or object
  • Exposure to cold (frostbite is also a type of burn)
  • Steam
  • Hot liquids (the more consistent the liquid, the more severe the burn)
  • Irradiation
  • Chemical products

Third-degree burn

La brûlure au troisième degré est une blessure très grave. Ici, ce sont les structures profondes qui sont touchées - comme les muscles, les fascias et tendons, et parfois même les os. Les tissus sont littéralement carbonisés, laissant d’ailleurs la zone atteinte extrêmement vulnérable aux infections. La brûlure au troisième degré nécessite impérativement une allée à l'urgence.  De plus, la guérison des lésions fait généralement l’objet d’un suivi médical (soins de plaies et changements de pansements) ainsi que d’une intervention chirurgicale dans certains cas.

What are the symptoms of a third-degree burn?

A third-degree burn is often accompanied by peripheral areas of superficial second-degree burns. Because of this, the patient may experience pain. However, the parts affected by the third-degree burn are never the site: the nerve endings have been destroyed.

The following are also noted:

  • A "cardboard" appearance of the skin
  • Pieces of skin that peel off from the burned area
  • A hard, brownish or whitish surface
  • Painful red areas around the main burn area (peripheral burns)

What can cause a third-degree burn and how is it treated?

In the majority of cases, a third-degree burn is caused by the same factors as those mentioned above.

Take, for example, a chemical burn, an electric shock or even a fire with a boiling consistent liquid like cooking oil, caramel, boiling water, etc.

When should you consult a doctor?

As mentioned above, it is essential to see a doctor urgently for a deep second-degree burn, as well as a third-degree burn. The reason for the urgency of this situation is, again, the high risk of infections.

Also, since important tissues are damaged (such as nerve endings), some sensory or motor functions can be impaired. Prompt treatment can sometimes prevent this complication.

How to prevent burns

Because of their frequent nature, burns are one of the most common reasons for seeing a doctor. Ultimately, most are benign and do not require invasive medical intervention.

However, it is important to point out the vulnerability of young children to these injuries. Not only is their skin more sensitive, but they’re often very curious about their surroundings. It is not uncommon for a child to burn themself on a heater, on an electrical outlet, by touching hot liquid, etc.

In the end, a good understanding of the causes is a great way to effectively prevent burns for you or your loved ones.

The drugs and pharmaceutical services featured on the website are offered by pharmacists who own the affiliated pharmacies at Familiprix. The information contained on the site is for informational purposes only and does not in any way replace the advice and advice of your pharmacist or any other health professional. Always consult a health professional before taking or discontinuing medication or making any other decision. Familiprix inc. and the proprietary pharmacists affiliated with Familiprix do not engage in any way by making this information available on this website.