What is a First-Degree Burn?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 28 March 2020
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A first-degree burn is the least serious type of burn. It generally impacts only the top layer of skin, and is characterized by redness and pain. Cool water can help alleviate swelling, and often taking a non-prescription strength type of pain medication is enough to manage any pain that might occur. When kept clean and properly bandaged, a first-degree burn can usually heal quickly and cleanly with little or no scarring.

A first-degree burn can be extremely painful, but it is still considered a minor burn. The top layer of the skin, called the epidermis, is the only layer damaged. In most cases the surface of the skin can become red, and swelling can occur in the area of the burn. There may be some blistering in severe cases, but most often the skin will not be broken unless a blister is burst. When an individual suffers from a number of different burns, first-degree burns are not considered severe enough to include in a percentage of the body that has been damaged.


In addition to pain, redness, and swelling, an individual suffering from a first-degree burn may also show signs of paleness around the area of the burn. Depending on the area it is in, how large the burn is, and how suddenly it happens, the individual may also go into shock. Cooling the area of the burn is crucial in all cases, and should be done carefully. Applying extremely cold water to a burn can damage the skin, so it is important to use mildly cool water or a damp towel to gradually bring down the temperature of the skin.

As the burn heals, it is also important to keep the area clean. Bandaging it can help keep the area clean and free from infection, which can further damage the already injured skin. When wrapping a burn, it is important to use only a non-stick bandage; if the bandage sticks to the burn, it can tear the skin before it is healed. Applying anything to the surface of the burn to keep it from sticking to the bandage can cause infection, and healing ointments can frequently have just the opposite effect on the burn.

One of the most common types of first-degree burn is a sunburn. The burn begins slowly and develops into a painful, red area. As the skin heals, it may become flaky and begin to peel. Regardless of the severity that the burn originally displays, it is crucial to keep an eye on the progression of the burn's condition.

The damage may spread, especially if the burn is not properly treated. It is relatively easy for a first-degree burn to travel deeper into the skin and damage the next layer, called the dermis. When this happens, it is then considered a second-degree burn.



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