Thermal burns are caused by direct contact with heated objects—boiling water, steam, cooking oil, grease, hot surfaces and fire. At Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America, 85% of all burn injuries treated are thermal burns.

Broken down in six categories, thermal burns include scalds, contact burns, electrical burns, chemical burns, radiation burns and burns caused by fire. Flame burns typically require hospitalization, but treatment plans vary depending on the kind of burn sustained and the severity of the burn.

A burn injury will fall into one of these categories:

WARNING: Graphic images below.

First-Degree Burns

  • Are marked by red, pink or darkened skin.
  • Are painful and warm to touch.
  • No blisters or skin sloughing present.
  • Not included in TBSA calculation.

Second-Degree Burns

  • Are moist, reddened, blistered and painful to touch.
  • Blanch to touch.
  • Are at risk of developing into a third-degree burn. Regularly reassess second-degree burns to ensure the injury has not converted to a third-degree burn.

Third-Degree Burns

  • Are dry/tight/leathery, brown/tan/waxy or pearly white.
  • Are devoid of blanching or capillary refill.
  • Are relatively pain-free, lacking blisters and may initially appear as second-degree.
  • Need skin grafting to heal.

Fourth-Degree Burns

  • Have a charred appearance.
  • Extend below the dermis and subcutaneous fat into the muscle, bone or tendon.
  • Treatment of these injuries may require the prioritization of preserving the patient's overall health versus treating the injured appendage.

If you are in uncontrollable pain, have second-degree burn larger than your palm or anything that looks charred, dry or is painless, seek immediate medical care. In some cases, you may need to call 911 for emergency medical transport, including:

  • Extensive second-degree burns on the body
  • Any third- or fourth-degree burns on the body
  • Difficulty breathing due to facial burns
  • Large smoke exposure in a closed room
  • If the injured person is unconscious

For more information on thermal 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.