burns scars types and symptoms explained

Most of us will burn our skin at some point in our lives.

When the burn affects just the outer layers of our skin, the scar tissue fades over time – so much so, that we often forget it’s even happened. And how many times have we had a cut or injury that’s healed completely after a few weeks, and given us no trouble at all?

But what happens when the damage from burns and scars is more serious – when we’re left with a visible reminder? We’ve gathered some key information that can help to understand the types of burns and scars that can occur.

What are burns?

Burns are tissue damage to the skin, and they can be caused by heat, chemicals, radiation exposure, electricity or unprotected exposure to the sun. They vary in type and severity, ranging from minor (where very little medical assistance is needed at all) to urgent (treatment in hospital in a specialist burns unit). What treatment is needed depends on the burn’s size, location and severity.

Types and degrees of burns

Burns are classified first, second, third, or fourth-degree, from the lowest to the highest.

First-degree burns
Also known as superficial burns, they damage your first layer of skin. One of the milder levels of burns, first-degree burns don’t generally need medical treatment. However, they may cause moderate pain and discomfort, particularly if they’re large.

Second-degree burns
Second-degree burns, also known as partial-thickness burns, affect the outer (epidermis) and second (dermis) layers of your skin. More severe than first-degree burns, these can be painful and are more susceptible to infection. Left untreated, they can cause further medical complications.

Third-degree burns
Third-degree burns, also known as full-thickness burns, can severely damage your skin. These go further than the dermis of your skin and affect deeper skin tissue causing significant damage. These burns occur as a result of exposure to chemicals, radiation, flames, and heat. Anyone who experiences third-degree burns should seek urgent medical attention as you will require the assistance of a specialist burns team. And, as this type of burn impacts nerve endings, you may not be able to feel the full extent and severity of the damage caused.

Fourth-degree burns
These are the most severe types of burns and cause deeper damage. In the case of all fourth-degree burns, urgent and specialised medical care is required as the damage is potentially life-threatening. The damage extends beyond all layers of your skin, as well as your bones, muscles, and tendons. Similar to third-degree burns, you may lose the sensation to feel the pain as your nerve endings are weakened.

What are the symptoms of burns?

Burn symptoms may vary based on the degree and nature of the burn, and symptoms are often more prominent within the first few hours. These can include:

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Blistering
  • Peeling skin
  • Swelling
  • Colour changes to the skin
  • Skin tightening
  • Charring

What are scars?

Scarring is the body’s reaction to damaged or lost skin and is part of the natural healing process. Fibrous tissues replace the impacted or injured skin that may scar following surgical wounds, inflamed tissue areas, skin injuries, and infections.

Types of scars

Fine-line scars
Fine-line scars often develop following wounds or surgery. During healing, the skin raises like a bump over the impacted skin. Over time, the appearance of these bumps will deflate and flatten. However, this can take up to two years, and the scars won’t completely fade. Instead, a faint line or mark will remain in its place. Fine line scarring is often a result of cuts or surgical wounds. Although they aren’t usually particularly painful, you may feel an itching sensation for the first few initial months.

Keloid scars
Keloid scars occur from skin damage or injury and form over the healing area as a circular bulging bump. Thick tissue grows as it heals, often growing larger than the wound itself. This mass of overgrown tissue develops due to high levels of collagen production during the healing process. The most common places for these to form are around your chest area, shoulders, cheeks, and earlobes. Keloids can be itchy and painful and if near a joint, can lead to restricted movement.

Hypertrophic scars
Similar to keloid scars, hypertrophic scars occur when an excess amount of collagen is produced as a healing process. However, unlike keloids, hypertrophic do not grow larger than the wound itself. If you’ve experienced skin trauma, any form of burn, or have an incision wound from surgery, you are more susceptible to this type of scarring as your skin is likely to be tighter as a result.

Contracture scars
Contracture scars develop after skin burns. As the skin around the burn tightens, your ability to move becomes more restricted. In cases that the scar is deeper, it can cause nerve damage and impact your muscles.

What are the symptoms of scarring?

  • Swelling
  • Inflammation and redness
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Bursts of sharp pain
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Raised bumpy skin

If you’re looking for treatment for a burn or a scar, then Electiva may be able to help – get in touch with us now for a chat.