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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How are burns classified?

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    Dr Jillian Tomlinson

    Hand Surgeon, Plastic Surgeon (Reconstructive & Cosmetic)

    Dr Jill Tomlinson is a fully qualified plastic, reconstructive and hand surgeon. After graduating dux in her year at University High School, Jill completed medical … View Profile

    Burns are classified according to their depth as:

    • superficial burn (eg sunburn - previously called 1st degree)
    • superficial partial thickness burn (eg blistered burn, where the blisters may have burst; the epidermis and a small amount of the dermis are burned - previously called 2nd degree)
    • deep partial thickness burn (eg a burn where the outer layer of the skin peels off; the epidermis and a large amount of the dermis are burned - previously called 2nd degree)
    • full thickness burn (where the entire thickness of the epidermis and dermis are burned - previously called 3rd degree)
    Burns that are superficial or superficial partial thickness usually heal without the need for surgery. Dressings are applied until the skin heals spontaneously. Whether scarring results largely depends on how deep the burn was. Deep partial thickness burns and full thickness burns are usually treated with excision of the burned skin and skin grafting.

    Some people still use the old classification system that refers to burns as 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th degree burns. This classification is included below as a reference:
    • 1st degree - burns that involve the epidermis (eg sunburn)
    • 2nd degree - burns that involve the part, but not all, of the dermis
    • 3rd degree - the full thickness of the skin (epidermis and dermis) is burned
    • 4th degree - the full thickness of the skin plus underlying structures like tendons or bone are burned

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