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Cutaneous Burns

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

What are cutaneous burns?

Cutaneous burns, also known as thermal injuries, are one of the most common household injuries, mostly caused by hot liquids or fire.

They can be mild or life-threatening emergencies depending on the percentage of the surface of the body which is burned. Treatment depends on the severity of the injury and possible complications. It varies from minor wound care to treatment in a special burn unit, including medications, wound dressings or surgery. The recovery prognosis after small, superficial burns is usually good. The deeper the burn, the more likely it becomes that scarring will occur. Burns which cover large areas of the body are less likely to recover well.


A cutaneous burn is damage to the skin caused by heat. Common causes are fire, hot liquids (especially in children), radiation, and ultraviolet light (like sunlight or tanning beds). The severity of burns is classified by how deep the burn is and how much of the body is affected. Cutaneous burns can affect anyone, but tend to affect children and older people more commonly than teenagers and adults. Cutaneous burns are most likely occur by accident, but may also be a sign of abuse.


The symptoms and the appearance of a burn both depend on the degree of the burn, which is determined by the depth of the skin affected by the burn. There are three different degrees. First degree, or superficial, burns cause red, swollen and painful skin, which doesn't blister. Second degree burns cause blistering skin and the skin under the blister may be slightly numb. Third degree burns cause the skin to turn black or white, and are usually painless due to nerve damage.


The diagnosis is made based on the symptoms and by examining the burned skin.


Treatment depends on the degree and the extent of the injuries. First of all, the person should be removed from the source of the heat. Small first or second degree burns may be cooled under running water for a few minutes. People who suffer larger, more serious burns should be treated by emergency services and specialist burn units. Emergency treatment involves giving fluids, keeping the person warm and preventing infections. Once the immediate danger has passed, the affected person may receive skin grafts to help the skin grow back and reduce scarring. Complications, such as infections in wounds, are treated with antibiotics if they occur.


The best prevention for burns is to follow safety precautions when handling fire, hot liquids or chemicals. This includes supervising children while cooking, while bathing and at times where they could come into contact with an open flame.

Other names for cutaneous burns

  • Burn
  • Burns
  • Chemical injury
  • Scalding
  • Skin burns
  • Thermal injury

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