Third-degree burns, or full-thickness burns, are the most serious type of burn. They involve all the layers of the skin and underlying tissue and can cause permanent damage.
Third-degree burns are most often caused by direct extended contact with fire, heated objects, steam, hot liquids, chemicals, or electrical currents.
With a third-degree burn, the surface of the skin will be swollen and appear dry, waxy white, leathery, brown, or charred. There may be severe pain or little or no pain because of nerve damage. Some burn victims go into shock.
If someone you know suffers a third-degree burn, call 911 immediately. Make sure he or she is in a safe place but don't remove burned clothing or immerse severe burns in water. Do not use ice or butter. Instead, the burn can be covered with a clean, cool, and moist sterile bandage, cloth, or towel. If possible, elevate the burned body part(s) above the level of the heart.
Once at the hospital, treatment may include cleaning the affected area and removing dead skin and tissue; IV fluids; oral, topical, or intravenous (IV) antibiotics; and pain medications. Often, doctors must do a skin graft — a surgical procedure in which healthy skin is taken from an unburned part of the body and placed on the wound to help it heal.
Third-degree burns are a serious medical emergency and can be life threatening. If treated promptly, however, many burn cases can have good outcomes.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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