Classifying Burns

There are several ways to classify a burn. A burn can be classified by the agent, by the degree, by the depth and by the clinical findings.

Different burn agents or sources of the burns are chemicals, friction, electricity, radiation, extreme temperatures (both heat and cold), scalding, and steam.

Electrical burns can be caused by lightning, defibrillation, or by inappropriate use of small appliances, or cord accidents.

Radiation burns are caused by overexposure to UV light from the sun or tanning booths, from radiation therapy such as patients undergoing cancer therapy, sunlamps, or from excessive x-rays. Sun exposure is the most common form of radiation.

Scalding occurs from hot liquids, or gasses. Those at highest risk for scalding are young children and those over age 65.

Cold burns can occur when skin is exposed to extreme low-temperature as in prolonged exposure to snow, cold air or contact with dry ice, liquid helium, liquid nitrogen, or canned air. The effects and remedy are the same for cold burns as it is for heat burns.

Burn Severity

You can classify a burn by the degree or severity of the burn. This is done by first, second or third degree burn.

First-degree burns are those that are mild and are limited to redness of the skin, minor pain at the site of the burn. These burns involve only the upper layer of skin called the epidermis.

Second-degree burns involve reddened skin, and blistering of the skin and involve a greater degree of pain because of nerve involvement. The burn generally goes into the top layer and second layer of skin.

Third-degree burns are where most of the upper epidermis layer of skin is lost, there is damage to ligaments, tendons and muscles and nerve damage is also involved. These burns involve the dermis layer of skin and are often painless due to the nerve damage. These burns usually result in scarring and can also be fatal.

Skin Thickness

Another way to classify burns is by skin thickness. The classifications of thickness are: superficial thickness, partial thickness (superficial), Partial thickness (deep), and full thickness.

Clinical findings include the presence of erythema, pain degree, blisters, fluid, skin color, sensation and skin texture and thickness.