A radiation burn is caused by UV-rays, X-rays or radiation therapy to treat cancer. A radiation burn can be as simple as a small sunburn, but it can also encompass more severe cases like radiation dermatitis caused by ionizing radiation.

Sunburn is the most common form of radiation burns, and prolonged exposure to UV-rays can lead to severe sunburns, cancer and other medical complications like cataracts. Where this type of radiation from the sun is harmful, radiation has varying types that are used in the medical field to help diagnose and treat medical conditions. For example, small amounts of radiation are emitted during X-rays, PET scans and CT scans to get a better understanding of what is happening to a patient internally.

Medical radiation, while used to help identify and treat, can also cause radiation burns. The most common medical radiation burn is radiation dermatitis, which is caused by radiotherapy to treat medical conditions.

Radiation burns are judged similarly to thermal burns with categorized levels of burn.

First Degree

These appear as red, dry skin with moderate pain or itch at the site.

Second Degree

These appear as red, moist skin with blisters (small or large) and moderate to severe pain. Skin may begin to slough off in small spaces with a second-degree burn.

Where radiation burns differ from thermal burns is the amount of time between contact and seeing burn damage. A thermal burn is immediately apparent after contact with a hot object, but radiation burns may take hours, days or even weeks to present.

If you feel you have a radiation burn, seek immediate medical help. While there may be some things you can do to help treat the injury, radiation burns can cause damage to the cellular structure of your skin and can lead to cell mutations and cancer.

For more information on radiation burns or how to treat them, contact Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at 855-863-9595. If you’re a healthcare provider looking to refer a patient, check out our referral process and how we’re able to assess and create a care plan in minutes.