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Don’t Touch That! It’s Hot! How to Identify These Different Types of Burns

different types of burns

“Like a moth to a flame” might be the common turn of phrase, but parents of small children can tell you – “toddlers” would be a far more accurate substitution.

In fact, different types of burns are among the most frequent childhood accidents for that exact reason. Babies just learning to crawl, walk, and explore, and toddlers taking the lead from their natural sense of curiosity (and perhaps a bit of mischievousness) seem inexplicably drawn to all things hot, corrosive, and shocking.

And because young children have more sensitive skin, even small burns can be a big deal.

The leading causes of childhood burns include:

  • Scalds – Burns resulting from hot liquids or steam, such as humidifiers, hot bath water, beverages, hot foods, and cooking fluids.
  • Chemical – Burns resulting from swallowing things like cleaners or watch batteries, or from the spillage of chemicals, like bleach, onto the skin.
  • Electrical – Burns resulting from interference with outlets and electrical cords.
  • Heat – Burns resulting from contact with an open flame – from candles and matches to the fireplace, or from touching a hot stove or surface.

Burns primarily fall into one of three classifications – first-degree, second-degree-and third-degree, though the type of burn is not expressly related to any one cause. For example, a scalding can fall anywhere on the spectrum depending on severity.

Understanding the different types of burns, their symptoms, and how they occurred, is essential in seeking proper medical care.

  • First-Degree – Also known as “superficial,” these burns generally cause minimal damage, only affecting the outermost layer of skin. Symptoms range from red, non-blistered skin to pain, and minor swelling.
  • Second Degree – A more serious injury that moves beyond the top layer of skin, second-degree burns can result in a thickening of the skin, blisters, severe pain, and redness. Blisters occasionally split open, resulting in a wet or weeping, pink appearance. Healing can take up to 3 weeks or more.
  • Third Degree – Also called “full thickness burns,” this is the most serious classification, and affects all layers of skin and underlying tissue. Widespread, with white, leathery or waxy surface, third-degree burns can also appear brown or charred. There may be no pain present due to nerve damage. Depending on the severity, skin grafts may be required.

First-degree burns often can be treated with home care, though medical attention – particularly for children – is suggested if the surface area is larger than 3 inches or if the burn occurs on a major joint, such as the knee, ankle, or shoulder. Home remedies generally include soaking the burn in cool water for up to 5 minutes, taking over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen; and applying antibiotic ointment and loose bandaging.

Second-degree burns are more severe, however, and frequently necessitate medical attention. Home care includes cool soaking for up to 15 minutes and routine bandaging to keep the area free from infection. Emergency medical treatment is critical if the burn affects the following areas: face, hands, buttocks, groin, or feet.

Without question, third-degree burns require immediate emergency treatment. If your child has suffered a third-degree burn, call 911 immediately.

In all situations, if your child has been burned, remove all clothing and jewelry from around the injury in case swelling occurs. Never use ice, as extreme cold can cause further damage. Cotton balls are discouraged, as the individual fibers can stick to the burn. Eggs, butter, and other homespun cure-alls are not advised.

Prevention, on the other hand, remains the best way to extinguish the potential for childhood burns.

  • Keep all flammable materials, hazardous chemicals, and electrical equipment out of reach
  • Turn all pot handles toward the back of the stove.
  • Prohibit access to the kitchen while you are cooking.
  • Discard electrical devices with worn or frayed cords.
  • Cover all outlets
  • Test smoke detectors regularly.
  • Test bath water before bathing.
  • Set hot water heater temp to 120 Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Apply sunscreen with a SPF of 50 or more when playout outdoors in the sun.

If your child has suffered a burn, however minor, the pediatric specialists at KinderMender can help. Call us at (443) 492-4000, or come in to one of our three Maryland locations. No appointment is necessary.

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