There are five types of burns namely Thermal Burns, Chemical Burns, Electrical Burns, Friction Burns and Radiation Burns. All of them are treated in the same way. Thermal and chemical being the most visible, while electric and radiation are more internal with some external evidence.

Definitions of them are as follows:

Thermal Burns

Thermal burns occur when you come in contact with something hot.

Typically, you will suffer a thermal burn when you touch:

  • Flames or fire
  • Hot, molten liquid or steam (referred to as a scald)
  • Hot objects, such as cooking pans, irons, or heated appliances.

Treatment for thermal burns depends on the location and severity of the burn. For moderate to severe burns, you should immediately call 911.

Then take these steps:

  • Put out any fire or flames and stop contact with the hot or heated source.
  • Use cold water to cool the burned area. Do not use ice, as it may further damage the skin.
  • For mild burns, you can find pain relief by applying a cool, wet compress and/or taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen as directed on the bottle. Later, burn creams and ointments can help these burns heal.
  • For more severe burns, loosely apply a sterile bandage or clean cloth to the burned area. Do not remove parts of your skin or pop blisters. Seek medical attention for further treatment.

Chemical Burns

You may receive a chemical burn if your skin and/or eyes come in contact with a harsh irritant, such as acid.

Substances that cause chemical burns include:

  • Chlorine
  • Ammonia
  • Bleach
  • Battery acid
  • Strong or harsh cleaners

Take these steps if you have been burned by a chemical: Rinse the burned area under running water for at least 10 minutes. If the chemical has entered your eye, rinse your eye for about 20 minutes to remove traces of the chemical.

Then, call Emergency Medical Services or go to the hospital if the burn is:

  • Larger than three inches
  • On your face, hands, feet, groin, or buttocks
  • Still very painful after taking over-the-counter pain medication
  • On a major joint, like the knee

Medical treatment for both thermal burns and chemical burns is similar and may include:

  • Wound cleaning and removing dead skin or tissue
  • IV fluids to regulate body temperature and speed healing
  • Antibiotics to prevent or fight infection
  • Skin grafting (covering the wound with healthy skin from another area of the body to close the wound)

Electrical Burns

Electrical burns happen when the body comes in contact with an electric current. Our internal systems are not resistant to electricity, so you may be injured if a strong jolt enters your body.

The most common cause of electrical burn is coming in contact with an extension cord where the insulation material has worn away. Low-voltage electrical burns can also occur in the mouth, most commonly when young children place non-insulated cords in their mouth.

A burn may appear on your skin if an electric current runs through your body. These burns can be treated like a thermal or chemical burn. However, if you come in contact with an electric current, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately. Electricity can affect internal tissues and muscles and have long-term, negative effects on your health.

Friction Burns

A friction burn can occur when skin repeatedly rubs against another surface or is scraped against a hard surface. Like other burns, friction burns are categorized into degrees.

Many friction burns are first degree and often heal on their own within three to six days. You can use a moisturizing cream at home to care for it. For more serious friction burns, you should seek medical care immediately.

Radiation Burns

Cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy may suffer from an injury known as radiation burn.

High-energy radiation is used to shrink or kill cancerous cells, and when it passes through the body, skin cells may be damaged. If you’re frequently receiving radiation treatments, your skin cells may not have enough time to regenerate, and sores or ulcers may develop.

The term “burn” is a misnomer for these wounds, because the skin has not actually been burned. However, the wounds can look and feel like burns.

Skin must regenerate for the wounds to heal, which can take two to four weeks for mild skin reactions or a few months for more serious reactions.

Care for radiation burns includes:

  • Cleaning and moisturizing wounds
  • Avoiding sunlight
  • Wearing loose clothing or bandages over the wound

If you have an injury from radiation, you may also have internal complications and should seek medical treatment immediately.

Types of burn wounds:

Superficial burn (first degree)

This is purely a surface burn affecting the first layer of skin, where the skin appears red, is painful to the touch and may be slightly swollen but the skin remains intact. An example is a sunburn.

Simply run cold water over the affected area for five to 10 minutes and cover the burn with a sterile dressing.  The cold will help remove the excessive heat from the skin and reduce the damage.

Partial thickness burn (second degree)

Damage includes dermis and epidermis. The skin is red, blistered, swollen and extremely painful, for example, a burn from hot water. 

Seek medical assistance. Once blistering occurs or the burn is on the face, neck, hands or feet you need to get your child to a healthcare practitioner. The priority is to ensure the wound is cleaned and dressed correctly.

Full thickness burn (third degree)

All the layers of the skin are damaged, the burn goes through the dermis and affects deeper tissues. The skin appears pale, waxy and charred. Surprisingly, this burn is often not painful, as most of the nerve endings have been damaged. The patient is very cold as the protection from the environment (provided by the skin) has been damaged by the burn injury.

These injuries are extremely serious. Immediately seek medical assistance. If the burn covers a large part of the body, gently cover it with a clean sheet soaked in cold water. Gently remove clothing, shoes and jewellery from the area unless it is stuck and wait for medical assistance.