Classifying Burns

Burns are classified in 2 ways: method and degree of burn.

  • Chemical - including various acids, bases, and caustics
  • Electrical - including electrical current and lightning
  • Light - burns caused by intense light sources or ultraviolet light, which includes sunlight
  • Radiation - such as from nuclear sources. Ultraviolet light is also a source of radiation burns
  • Thermal - including flame, radiation, or excessive heat from fire, steam, and hot liquids and hot objects
Never assume the source of a burn. Gather information and be sure.

The different degrees to which someone can be burned are as follows:
  1. 1st Degree
  2. 2nd Degree
  3. 3rd Degree
1st Degree Burns
1st degree burns are superficial injuries that involve only the epidermis or outer layer of skin. They are the most common and the most minor of all burns.

The skin is reddened and extremely painful but the burn will heal on its own without scarring within 2-5 days. There may be peeling of the skin and some temporary discoloration.
Determining Severity
When determining the severity of a burn please take the following into account:
  • Source of the burn - a minor burn caused by nuclear radiation is more severe than a burn caused by thermal sources. Chemical burns are dangerous because the chemical may still be on the skin.
  • Body regions burned - burns to the face are more severe because they could affect airway management or the eyes. Burns to hands and feet are also of special concern because they could impede movement of fingers and toes.
  • Degree of the burn - the degree of the burn is important because it could cause infection of exposed tissues and permit invasion of the circulatory system.
  • Extent of burned surface areas - It is important to know the percentage of the amount of the skin surface involved in the burn. The adult body is divided into regions, each of which represents 9% of the total body surface. These regions make up 99% of the human body. The remaining 1% is the genital area. With an infant or small child, more emphasis is placed on the head and trunk. These regions are:
    • The abdomen
    • The back of each lower limb
    • The chest
    • Each upper limb
    • The front of each lower limb
    • The head and neck
    • The lower back and buttocks
    • The upper back
  • Age of the patient - This is important because small children and senior citizens usually have more severe reactions to burns and different healing processes.
  • Preexisting physical or mental conditions - Patients with respiratory illnesses, heart disorders, diabetes or kidney disease are in greater jeopardy than normally healthy people.
  • Cool a burn with water - do what you must to get cool water on the burn as soon as you can.
  • Go to the nearest water faucet and turn on the cold spigot and get cool water on the burn.
  • Put cool, water-soaked cloths on the burn.
  • If possible, avoid icy cold water and ice cubes - such measures could cause further damage to burned skin.
Never apply ointment, grease or butter to the burned area. Applying such products, actually confine the heat of the burn to the skin and do not allow the damaged area to cool. In essence, the skin continues to "simmer." After the initial trauma of the burn and after it has had sufficient time to cool, it would then be appropriate to put an ointment on the burn. Ointments help prevent infection.

The 1 exception to the "Cool a Burn" method is when the burn is caused by lime powder. In that case, carefully brush the lime off the skin completely and then flush the area with water. In the event of any serious burns, call 911.