Burn injuries range in severity, with the most serious requiring specialized treatment and the least serious requiring only routine first aid. The more severe a burn is, the more likely complications are to occur, the longer healing can take and the more difficult it becomes to treat the injury.
There are several different factors that determine exactly how severe a burn injury is and whether it requires specialized treatment.
Degree of penetration
The skin of the human body consists of several layers. A burn injury that penetrates deeply, affecting more layers of skin, is more severe. In the past, doctors assigned numbers to burn injuries to designate their severity. For example, a first-degree burn was the least serious type, affecting only the outermost layer, while second- and third-degree burns penetrated deeper layers.
Today, it is more common for doctors to forgo the numerical system altogether and describe burn injuries solely in terms of how deeply into the skin they penetrate. For example, it is more common to describe an injury that penetrates through all layers of skin as a full-thickness burn rather than a third-degree burn. A partial-thickness burn, formerly known as a second-degree burn, penetrates past the most superficial layer but not as deeply as a full-thickness burn.
Affected surface of the body
Even if a burn is not as severe in terms of its penetration, it may need specialized treatment because of how widespread it is over the body. Partial-thickness burns involving over 10% of the body are severe enough to warrant specialized treatment due to the risk of infection and other health risks.