Walker Morgan LLC
First Degree Burns
First Degree Burns
A first degree burn is a burn that has only affected the top layer of skin, the epidermis. These burns do not typically cause any long term damage and heal on their own. A majority of first degree burns occur from accidents in the home or during recreational activities and can be avoided by taking simple precautions.
Coloration: Depending on the severity of the burn, the skin around the burn sight will turn pink or red. Even minor burns damage the skin enough to cause inflammation. Inflammation leads to a release of histamines that cause the capillaries to dilate. When the capillaries dilate, more blood flows to the surface of the skin causing coloration.
Pain: In addition to causing dilation of the capillaries, inflammation can put pressure on the nerves located in the dermis. The nerves relay this sensation to the brain which registers it as pain. People experience pain differently, but pain from a first degree burn should be manageable with over-the-counter medication. If the pain is too severe to be managed by over-the-counter medication, seek medical attention to treat any underlying conditions or complications.
Dryness/itchiness: Heat from first degree burns causes the skin to lose much of its moisture content and prevents oil glands from producing oil at the site of the burn. These factors lead to dry skin which in turn leads to itchiness.
Peeling: Peeling occurs when a burn damages living cells in the stratum granulosum, stratum spinosum, or stratum basale—the bottom three layers of the epidermis. The body is forced to discard these dead cells resulting in peeling. Burns that only affect the stratum corneum—the top layer of the epidermis—do not peel because the stratum corneum is composed entirely of dead cells.
Removing the source of the burn is the first step in treating any burn. First degree burns can turn into second degree burns or worse if the burn source is permitted to continue transferring energy into the skin.
Cool the affected area by holding it under cool running water. If running water isn’t available, immerse the burned area in cool water or use cold compresses. Cooling draws the heat out of the skin and helps reduce swelling.
Cover the burned area. Burned skin is very sensitive and vulnerable to tearing. Coverings work as a protective layer to prevent stress to the skin. Sterile gauze bandages make an effective cover because they offer little irritation. Avoid wrapping the area too tight as pressure can worsen swelling and cause unnecessary pain.
Watch the affected area for signs of complications. Excessive pain or swelling, fever, and/or oozing may be signs of infection or other complications that require professional medical attention. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, to combat pain and reduce swelling. Always follow dosage advice listed on the bottle. If the pain is too severe for over-the-counter medication, seek professional medical attention. Speak with your physician if you have concerns.
Avoid using ice to cool the burn. Cooling the burn is an important first step, but it is equally as important to avoid extreme temperatures. The tissue around the burn is sensitive and more susceptible to injuries from both heat and cold sources. Cooling the tissue too much may damage the tissue further.
Another common mistake is applying oily ointments or butter. While there are a few products that can help draw heat out of a burn (such as aloe vera), oily substances can aggravate the burned skin and lead to infection. To heal, the skin needs to breathe. Oily substances prevent the skin from getting the air it needs and can cause infection.
First degree burns will rarely require treatment from medical professionals, but there are a few instances where seeking medical treatment is advised. The epidermis acts as a barrier between the body and the dangers of the outside world. When large sections of skin are burned, the skin loses its effectiveness at safeguarding the body. In these situations, medical attention may be necessary to prevent complications.
The area of the burn is also an important factor. Burns to the face pose heightened danger because of their potential to damage any of the various sensory receptors located on the head. The skin is also at its thinnest around the eyes which makes severe burns more probable. The possibility of scarring is also more concerning when the injury is on such a visible part of the body. Burns to the feet, hands, or major joints can cause mobility impairment. Take extra consideration before deciding whether or not to forgo medical treatment to burns in these regions.
Medical attention may also be necessary if the body is unable to heal naturally. Provided the area is kept clean and protected, first degree burns should ordinarily heal within one week. If a first degree burn is not showing signs of healing within two weeks, it may be a sign of complications in the body’s immune system which are preventing the body from healing naturally. Under such circumstances, first degree burns should be treated by medical professionals who can assist the body with its natural healing processes.