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How does burn depth relate to degree?

| Sep 3, 2019 | Serious Injuries |

The severity of a burn injury in Ohio depends upon how deeply the damage extends beneath the surface of the skin. In the past, doctors classified burn wounds according to degrees. First-degree burns are the least serious type, involving only the epidermis. Second-degree, third-degree and (according to some scales) fourth-degree burns are more serious. 

The problem with this type of classification system is that the terms first-degree, second-degree and so on are not descriptive. In other words, you need to have prior knowledge of how serious a second-degree burn is for the diagnosis to have any meaning to you. 

Currently, it is more common for doctors to classify burns according to depth rather than degree. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, doctors now tend to describe the least-serious burns as superficial rather than first-degree. Superficial burns do not cause scarring but can produce moderate pain until they heal within a five-to-10-day timeframe. With a superficial burn, your skin is dry without blisters and appears red or pink. 

Rather than third-degree burns, doctors now classify the most severe burns as full-thickness because they penetrate through all the layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues. With the skin damaged beyond repair, the only way to treat a full-thickness burn is with skin grafting. After a full-thickness burn, the skin appears dry, leathery, and black/brown or white in color. Because a full-thickness tear damages nerve endings in the skin, pain is usually minimal. 

The second-degree burn classification of the past corresponds roughly to the partial-thickness classification more often in use today. However, there are two distinct classes of partial-thickness burns. Partial-thickness burns can be either superficial or deep. These distinctions refer to how deeply the burn affects the dermis, that is, the layer of the skin beneath the epidermis.

Superficial partial-thickness burns cause skin blistering, redness and significant pain, but they produce only minimal scarring after a three-week healing period. With deep partial-thickness burns, decreased sensation results in minimal pain, and the skin appears white or yellow. The healing period can be as short as three weeks or as long as eight weeks. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.