OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center

Rockford, Illinois

Burn Types

What are burns?

Burns are a type of injury to the skin caused by excessive heat from thermal, electrical, chemical or electromagnetic energy. Most burn accidents happen at home.

Smoking and open flame are the leading causes of burn injury for older adults. Scalding is the leading cause of burn injury for young children. Both infants and older adults are at the greatest risk for burn injury.


1st degree (superficial burns): Reddened skin without blisters.

2nd degree (partial thickness burns): Reddened skin with blisters (heals from bottom up; takes 2-3 weeks).

3rd degree (full thickness burns): Deep burns with white or charred skin – The area also loses sensation to pain and touch; usually needs a skin graft to prevent bad scarring if it is larger than a quarter in size.

Types of burns

  • Thermal burns

  • Caused by external heat sources that raise the temperature of the skin and tissues, these burns cause tissue cell death or black charring. Hot metals, scalding liquids, steam and flames can cause thermal burns.

    Frostbite is a type of burn caused by extreme cold. In frostbite, body tissue becomes frozen, and permanent damage may happen if not treated promptly. Amputation may be needed in the most severe cases. Most commonly, affected body parts include the nose, ears, fingers, toes, cheeks and chin.

  • Radiation burns 

  • Radiation burns are caused by prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. They can also be caused by exposure to other sources of radiation, such as therapeutic cancer treatments or nuclear power plant leaks.

  • Chemical burns

  • Chemical burns occur when strong acids, alkalis, detergents or solvents come into contact with the skin or eyes.

  • Electrical burns

  • Electrical burns come from direct exposure to electrical current.

  • Friction burns

  • A friction burn is caused by the friction of skin rubbing against a surface. Road rash is one of the most common examples.

  • Skin disorders

  • Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis are two forms of the same life-threatening skin disease that cause rash, skin peeling and sores on the mucous membranes. They are commonly caused by drugs or infections.

    Necrotizing of soft tissue, commonly known as flesh-eating disease , is an infection that causes the death of parts of the body's soft tissue. It is a severe disease that spreads rapidly. Symptoms include red or purple skin in the affected area, severe pain, fever and vomiting. A necrotizing soft tissue infection can destroy skin, muscle and other soft tissues. If untreated, it may lead to amputation and sometimes death.