What is a 3rd Degree Burn and How is it Treated?

This article describes the nature of a 3rd degree burn and the kinds of treatment that it may require to prevent complications and speed up the healing process. This is the deepest kind of burn because it affects all of the three layers of skin, which are the epidermis, the dermis and the layer of fat. Thus, the nerves in the skin, the hair follicles and the sweat glands are often damaged too. However, it should be noted that the doctor determines the severity of burns not just from the depth but also from the size of the body surface area that has been affected. Even a first degree burn can be considered to be severe if it covers a substantial area of the body. Meanwhile, if the 3rd degree burn affects more than one percent of the body surface area, it is usually classified as severe.


A patient who has a 3rd degree burn may sometimes be unaware of the seriousness of his or her condition because there is usually no pain, unless the surrounding areas have been affected by 1st degree or 2nd degree burns. However, this is a dangerous condition because even burn areas that are as small as two percent of the body surface may constitute a moderate to severe burn. This may result in severe complications. In minor burns, the damage is superficial. A burn scar may or may not appear after the wound has healed. And even if a scar emerges, you may not even be able to distinguish a wrinkle from the scar. Naturally, in third degree burns, the burn scars are much more severe and may require surgery.

Common complications of a third degree burn due to tissue damage and loss of fluid are dehydration, chemical imbalances, shock, infection, damage to muscle tissue that may cause the release of too much myoglobin into the blood that can affect the kidneys, and the development of eschars that can block the blood supply of healthy tissues. Dehydration is a dangerous condition because if it is not treated, it can lead to shock, which is the condition where the blood pressure has dropped too low to sustain life.

First aid treatment for a 3rd degree burn consists of submerging the affected area in cool running water. Ice water or ice should not be applied because these may cause further damage to tissues and they may even cause the victim to go into shock. The feet, legs and hands must be positioned higher than the heart as a way to minimize the possibility of shock. Hospitalization is necessary for optimal care, particularly in burn centers that have medical staff who are well trained in the treatment of burns. If the patient has gone into shock, oxygen is usually provided via face mask. Large quantities of IV fluids are often provided to counteract the high density of myoglobins in the blood that were produced by the destruction of muscle tissue. IV fluids are also vital for preventing dehydration and shock.