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Burn FAQ

What are first, second and third-degree burns, and what do I do about them?

First-degree burns, such as sunburns, only affect the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis. The burn area is red, slightly swollen and without blisters. First-degree burns are characterized by persistent but relatively minor pain and usually heal without problems. Long-term damage is rare.

A second-degree burn is deeper and involves the epidermis and part of the dermis, or second layer of the skin. These burns cause redness and swelling, and the area is extremely painful. Fluid-filled blisters often form and the skin beneath is pink and moist; do not remove the blistered skin unless instructed to do so by a physician. Some second-degree burns may require a skin graft or skin substitute to heal.

A third-degree burn, the most serious of the three levels, extends deeper into the skin tissues. Common symptoms include dry, leathery, necrotic (dead) skin. The burned skin may look white or charred. If the burn has destroyed nerve endings, the victim may experience little or no pain. Third-degree burns need immediate medical attention and will require a skin graft or skin substitute to heal.

What should I do if I get burned?

Treat the area with cool water for five minutes or until the pain subsides. Do not apply ice. Cool water can relieve pain and reduce swelling by conducting heat away from the skin, which helps prevent blister formation.

Dry the wound carefully and cover with a dry dressing and come to the Burn Center immediately for evaluation. 

What do I need to know about electrical and chemical burns?

A person with an electrical burn (for example, from a power line) should go to the hospital right away. Electrical burns often cause serious injury inside the body, which may not show on the skin.

A chemical burn should be washed with large amounts of water. Take off any clothing that has come in contact with the chemical and do not cover the burned area. This may start a chemical reaction that could make the burn worse.

If you don't know what to do, call 911 or your local poison control center and seek medical advice right away.

How long do burns take to heal?

First-degree burns usually heal in three to six days. Second-degree burns usually heal in two to three weeks. Third-degree burns usually take a very long time to heal.

Questions? Contact the burn center at 888-622-2876.

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