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A doctor dresses a patient's hand with burn wound

Advanced Degrees: The Different Levels of Burns

May 05, 2018

From the sun to the stove, we encounter things that can cause burns every day. As one of the most common household injuries, burns can range in severity from minor damage to medical emergencies. Treating a burn depends on where it falls on the spectrum: first, second, third, or fourth degree. Understanding each level will help you determine your treatment options.

First-Degree Burn

A first-degree burn causes minimal skin damage: redness and minor swelling. It’s considered a “superficial” wound because it only affects the outermost layer of skin.

You can perform proper treatment at home:

  • Soak the burn in cool water for several minutes.
  • Take ibuprofen for pain.
  • Apply aloe vera gel.

The affected skin will dry up and peel away during healing, typically lasting seven to 10 days.

Second-Degree Burn

Second-degree burns affect skin deeper than the outer layer. These are more serious, as the skin will blister and become very sore and red. It’s necessary to keep the wound clean and properly bandage it to prevent infection.

Treatments include:

  • Run cool water over the wound for 15 minutes.
  • Take ibuprofen for pain.
  • Apply antibiotic cream to the blisters.

Never apply ice to burns as it can further damage the skin. If the burn covers a broad area of skin or occurs on the face, hands, feet, groin, or major joint, seek medical treatment. These burns typically heal in three weeks or less.

Third-Degree (and Higher) Burn

Third-degree and higher burns are the most severe types, affecting every layer of skin. This level of injury may give the skin a leathery texture or make it look white, waxy, or charred.

Never try to treat a third-degree (or higher) burn at home. Instead:

  • Immediately call 911.
  • Try to keep the wounded area above your heart.
  • Make sure there is no clothing stuck to the burn.

In addition to avoiding heat sources, wear sunscreen every day to prevent burns. The majority of burns are minor enough to be treated at home. For more severe ones, seek immediate medical attention. Locate your nearest CHI St. Luke’s Health community emergency centers so you can prepare for any medical emergency.


Healthline | Burns: Types, Treatments, and More
MedlinePlus | Burns