What is a First-Degree Burn?
A first-degree burn, also known as a mild or superficial burn, affects the first layer of skin and is the least harmful of the burn types. Contrary to second degree burns, first degree burns most commonly occur to young children and older adults. Although first degree burns are seldom severe, they can become quite painful, at which point you should seek professional medical assistance.
What are the Symptoms of a First-Degree Burn?
Symptoms of first degree burns include:
- Minor Pain
- Skin discoloration
These symptoms will remain mild and tend to subside after 2-3 days. In the case of a sunburn, you may experience peeling in addition to the symptoms listed above. First degree burns seldom scar permanently after healing. Unlike second degree burns, first degree burns typically do not blister.
What are the different Causes and Types of a First-Degree Burn?
Sunburns: Sunburns are an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, typically from sunlight. These ultraviolet rays can penetrate the first layer of skin causing blisters, redness, and irritation. Sunburns are most commonly a result of:
- Staying in sunlight for long periods
- Insufficient sunscreen coverage
- Engaging in outdoor activities whilst under the influence of alcohol
- Lengthy tanning bed usage
- Using photosynthesizing medications
Electric: An electrical burn is a skin reaction caused by an electric current passing through the body. Specific mediums causing a first-degree electric burn must be less powerful than 500 volts and are classified as low voltage electrical burns. Children are most prone to common facilitators of first degree electric burns, which are:
- Using electrical appliances whilst wet
- Touching exposed power outlets
- Adjusting live prongs of an electrical cord
- Inserting fingers into live electrical sockets
Thermal Burns/Scalds: Thermal burns, also known as scalds, are burns resulting from direct skin contact with substances or objects. These include hot liquid, steam, fire, and hot objects. With the exception of fire and showering in water above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, causes of first degree scalds often occur to children 4 and under. Common causes of first degree thermal burns/scalds include:
- Touching a hot iron
- Touching boiling water
- Touching a hot cooking pot or pan
- Contact with a flame
- Friction between the skin and an opposing surface
- Extended contact with an extremely cold object
Chemical: Chemical Burns, also known as caustic burns, are burns that cause skin irritation and inflammation when either the eyes or skin are exposed to an irritant, such as an acid or a base. In the case of more severe chemical burns, the internal organs can be affected by ingesting or swallowing a chemical. Products that often produce chemical burns if used incorrectly are:
- Cheap pool chlorine
- Teeth whitening products
- Denture cleaners
- Car battery acid
How Can a First-Degree Burn be Treated?
First degree burns can be treated at home and are best treated by first placing a mildly cool compress, such as ice cubes in a plastic bag, over the burn for 15 minutes to relieve the pain and swelling. After placing the cool compress, it is best to apply an ointment containing Aloe Vera in combination with an anesthetic like Lidocaine to numb the pain and protect the wound.
Although tempting, it is best to avoid inadequate home remedy treatments such as honey, lemons, butter, mayonnaise, and ice. These methods can cause infection or further irritate the wound. To adequately treat the burn, alleviate the pain, and hasten the healing process, use a combination of Aloe Vera (soothing & moisturizing agent), Lidocaine (pain numbing agent), and Vitamin E (wound healing agent). These are all active ingredients found in Alocane products.
How Long Does It Take to Heal a First-Degree Burn?
On average, a first-degree burn takes between 3-10 days to heal fully. Factors that influence the healing time include the location of burn, treatment methods, and severity.
When Should You See a Doctor About a First-Degree Burn?
Doctors typically do not need to be contacted in the case of first degree burns. However, you should consult your doctor or seek medical care if:
- The burn appears to be infected with irregularities extending beyond the area of the burn
- The individual burned is a young child or elderly person
- The burn appears to have affected more than the top layer of skin
- A fever accompanies the burn and does not respond to over-the-counter pain relievers
- The burn is larger than the palm of the persons hand
Indications that the burned area may be infected are:
- Green or yellow liquid draining from the burn
- A change in color of the burned area
- An increase in swelling and tenderness
- Redness begins to develop leaving the burned area
How can a First-Degree Burn be Prevented?
When the appropriate steps are taken, first degree burns are easily avoidable. Abide by these tips to ensure that first degree burns are avoided.
- Use sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF
- Avoid spending an extended amount of time in the sun or tanning beds
- Avoid the use of alcohol while engaging in outdoor activities
- Use water resistant sunscreen
- Wear sunscreen year-round since 80% of ultraviolet rays can escape cloud coverage
- Avoid using expired sunscreen
Preventing Electric Burns:
- Use or cover exposed electrical sockets
- Avoid using electric powered appliances whilst wet
- Turn off circuit breakers before making repairs to wiring
- Unplug unused appliances
- Place electrical cords outside of the reach of children
Preventing Thermal Burns/Scalds:
- When hot cooking pots are present, keep them on the back burner with the handles turned inward to avoid mishap
- Ensure children have sufficient supervision when around open flames, hot surfaces, and hot objects
- Avoid using extension cords for kitchen appliances
- Avoid bathing, shower, or coming in contact with water that is above 120 degrees Fahrenheit
Preventing Chemical Burns:
- Store chemicals at home in locked cabinets, out of the reach of children
- Use proper attire and eye protection when handling chemicals
- Always follow directions and safety precautions provided by the manufacturer
Medical News Today
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia