iWOC Nursing Foundation Transforming Healthcare, One Person At A Time.

Thermal Wounds

Thermal wounds, also known as a burn, is a type of injury to flesh caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, light, radiation or friction. Common types of burns include radiation burns, scalding, and sunburns.  Managing burns is important because they are commonly painful and can result in disfiguring and disabling scarring, amputation of affected parts, or death in severe cases.


Burns are classified based on their depth of tissue damage or destruction:

  • First degree burns are superficial and cause local inflammation of the skin. Sunburns often are categorized as first degree burns. The inflammation is characterized by pain, redness, and a mild amount of swelling. The skin may be very tender to touch.

  • Second degree burns are deeper and in addition to the pain, redness and inflammation, there is also blistering of the skin.

  • Third degree burns involve all layers of the skin, in effect killing that area of skin. Because the nerves and blood vessels are damaged, third degree burns appear white and leathery and tend to be relatively painless.

Care Basics

For minor burns (first degree burns or second degree burns involving a small area of the body):

  • Gently clean the wound with lukewarm water, pat dry, and cover with a clean dressing such as a band-aid.

  • Keep the area clean and protect from infection.

  • Remove rings, bracelets, and other potentially constricting articles.  Edema, or swelling may occur and the item may cut into the skin.

  • Butter should NOT be used as a home remedy on any burn.

*For severe burns (second degree burns involving a large area of the body or third degree burns): Seek medical attention.


Excluding sunburn, burns of the face, hands, and feet should always be considered a significant injury.  Seek medical attention immediately.  This is especially true for electrical and/or chemical burns, which generally require emergency medical care.

The greatest risk of any burn is infection.  A trained health care provider can help to determine the appropriate treatment, including care that can both prevent and treat infection.

Contact your physician immediately if there are any signs of an infection. An infection can spread to the rest of the body and cause serious problems. Signs of an infected ulcer include:

  • Redness, tenderness, warmth, or selling around the ulcer

  • A foul odor or pus from the ulcer

  • Fever, weakness, and confusion are signs that the infection may have spread to the blood or elsewhere in the body.

This information is for educational purposes, only.  It is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. The iWOC Foundation disclaims any liability for any decisions made based on this information.