Woman having gauze wrapped around her burn injury

Determining the Severity of Burn Injuries: What Qualifies as Catastrophic?

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Burns are a form of skin damage that can arise from a variety of different scenarios. They are an extremely common form of injury for adults and children. Burns range in severity and can require medical treatment.

Burns can result from any of the following situations:

  • Sunburn
  • Excessive heat
  • Chemical contact
  • Electrical contact
  • Radiation

If you or a loved one are suffering from a burn, this post will provide helpful information to determine the severity so you will know if you need medical attention.

Classification of Burns

Burns are separated into three distinct categories, which are organized by the severity of the burn. These categories are first-degree burns, second-degree burns, and third-degree burns. Each degree differs in terms of treatment.

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are considered superficial and generally only affect the top layer of skin. The first symptoms you will likely notice are redness and pain. In regards to recovery time, first-degree burns tend to heal within a week and usually do not leave any scars since they only affect the outer layer of the skin.

When treating a first-degree burn, soak the affected area in cool water for about five minutes. If you require pain relief, ibuprofen or acetaminophen should be enough. If you are still experiencing discomfort, you can apply a topical gel such as aloe vera or lidocaine. Once the sensation has calmed down, apply some antibiotic ointment.

When treating a first-degree burn, it is important to refrain from applying ice to the affected area, as it could increase the severity of the damage.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns breach the top layer of skin and affect the second layer of skin, known as the dermis. This can result in white marks across the skin, blisters, and intense pain. These types of burns are very volatile and require a higher standard of care than first-degree burns.

If the second-degree burn is mild, you can treat it by holding the affected area under cool running water for 15 minutes or more. Again, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can go a long way in regards to helping with the pain. Treat any blisters with antibiotic cream and seek medical attention if the burn does not seem to be getting better or appears more severe.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are extremely serious injuries. This is when the burn affects all layers of skin, including the layer of fat underneath the dermis. This can result in intense pain, numbness, and damaged nerves. 

Symptoms of a third-degree burn include all of the following:

  • White coloring on the skin
  • Charred skin
  • A leathery texture on the skin
  • Undeveloped blisters

The wounds caused by a third-degree burn can leave the victim with severe scarring and deformities. Healing can be prolonged, uncertain, and painful. If you or a loved one have experienced a third-degree burn, seek medical attention immediately.


Those afflicted with third-degree burns can experience a variety of complications. Because burns are open wounds, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria, which puts the victim at risk of contracting sepsis. Additionally, the afflicted individual may experience severe blood loss.

In addition to the burn itself, the individual may have sustained internal injuries due to smoke or hot air inhalation. This is why it is important to consult a medical professional after any accident involving a third-degree burn.

Need compensation? Contact Hunt Law

Contact Hunt Law today if you are suffering from a burn injury and need compensation. Hunt Law has served the Northern New Mexico area with excellence for almost two decades. If your case involves medical malpractice, wrongful death, catastrophic injury, or personal injury Hunt Law wants to hear about it.