Why burn injuries are so serious

Burn injuries are notorious for their painfulness. You are probably familiar with the terminology describing burns: first degree, second degree, third degree and fourth degree. Even a first-degree burn may cause discomfort that seems out of proportion to its severity, but serious burns can be physically and emotionally devastating.

Johns Hopkins Medicine explains that burn injuries are dangerous because the skin’s role as an organ is so critical to the health of the body. Not only does skin shield your internal organs from the world around you, it also keeps your body temperature regular, stores water and fat, and prevents your body from losing water. A burn that destroys skin exposes you to bacteria and infection, and it also can cause hypothermia.

Partial thickness

The reason that burns hurt so much is that there are so many nerve endings in the skin, particularly in the second layer, the dermis. A partial thickness burn affects this layer, and typically causes blisters, redness and swelling.

You may need specialized treatment at a burn center if you sustain partial-thickness burns on 10% of your body, if you have a chronic health condition or if the burn is chemical or electrical. It is also critical to seek immediate medical attention if a burn affects the hands, feet, face or groin area, or if it goes around a portion of your body.

Full thickness

As the name implies, full-thickness burns go all the way through the dermis. Because it destroys the nerve endings that register pain, a full-thickness burn will not hurt. The skin around the injury turns white or looks charred, and the muscles, tendons and bone beneath the skin may also be burned.