Burn Injury Degree Categorizations in DC

When one suffers a burn injury, the skin is the most commonly damaged organ. However, when one suffers a serious burn injury, nearly all of their vital organs and nerve endings – including the central nervous system – can be damaged and, in many cases, these injuries can be permanent. Severe burns can also leave victims emotionally traumatized for many years, if not their entire life. If you have ever burned your hand on the stove, you understand that the pain that accompanies a burn, even if it passes within a few seconds, can be intense. When the burns are more severe, the pain, stress, and emotional toll on the human body can be catastrophic. Although the medical community continues to make advances in burn therapy and treatment, the road to recovery is still long, painful, and quite expensive. The following page is a guide to the most frequently asked questions about burn injuries and how they are categorized. If you need answers to specific questions, contact a DC burn injury lawyer.

How are burns classified?

Though it’s not a common fact known to the public, burns fall in to one of four categories, with first degree burns being the least serious and fourth degree burns being the most acute and potentially life-threatening, according to medical experts.

First Degree Burns

The least severe burns are those that affect only the outermost layers of the skin (epidermis). After the initial shock, a first degree burn is the equivalent of a minor sunburn. Signs of a first-degree burn include:

  • Red skin that is painful to the touch
  • Dry in appearance
  • Sometimes a bit of slight swelling
  • Tingling

Many are thermal burns and experienced by touching a hot metal object or slight scalding for only a second or two. Though most view a minor first-degree burn as a superficial inconvenience, the possibility of infection may justify medical attention, though rarely more than one visit.

Second Degree Burns

The skin layer beneath the epidermis is called the “dermis.”  It is the area that produces what eventually becomes the epidermis. When the dermis is burned – even slightly – it becomes a second degree (or partial thickness) burn. Even slight burns of this type can be quite painful.  They can become red and swollen and may include blisters. Once healed, scarring is a possibility. Partial thickness burn symptoms include:

  • Blisters
  • The entire epidermis and upper layers of the dermis can be affected
  • Wounds appear red or pink
  • Wound will lighten when pressure is applied and return to original color when pressure is lifted
  • Healing time averages between two to three weeks. Scarring occurs, though is typically minimal

Common causes of second degree burns include scalding liquids, brief contact with electrical arcing and flash explosions, hot surface contact exposure, and open flames.

Third Degree Burns

Third Degree burns, or full thickness burns, come with exposure to a heat source of more than a few seconds and display the following symptoms:

  • Appear as deep red or white; generally do not present with blisters
  • The entire epidermis and most of the dermis is destroyed
  • Initially there is less pain but during recovery pain can be more pronounced
  • Color is unaffected if pressure is applied to the wound
  • Destroyed tissue will need to be removed and skin grafts will be necessary in order for the wound to fully heal.

Common causes of third degree burns include many of the same causes that apply to second degree burns.

Fourth Degree Burns

These extend completely through the epidermis and dermis to underlying muscle and nerve endings and, as such, are extremely serious. When a victim experiences these types of burns, there may not be as much initial pain as that seen in third degree burns. This is attributed to the fact that the patient is likely in shock and damage is often done to nerve endings in the affected area as well as sweat glands, muscle tissue, hair follicles, and even bone.