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A to Z: Burn, Third-Degree

Third-degree burns, or full-thickness burns, are the most serious type of burn. They involve all the layers of the skin and underlying tissue and can cause permanent damage.

More to Know

Third-degree burns are most often caused by direct extended contact with fire, heated objects, steam, hot liquids, chemicals, or electrical currents.

With a third-degree burn, the surface of the skin is swollen and looks dry, waxy white, leathery, brown, or charred. There may be severe pain — or, little or no pain because of nerve damage. Some burn victims go into shock.

If someone suffers a third-degree burn, call 911 immediately. Make sure he or she is in a safe place but don't remove burned clothing. Apply cool water over the area for at least 3-5 minutes, then cover the area with a clean dry cloth or sheet until help arrives. If possible, elevate the burned body part(s) above the level of the heart.

Once at the hospital, treatment may include cleaning the affected area and removing dead skin and tissue; antibiotics given orally (taken by mouth), topically (applied to the skin), or intravenously (IV) (through the veins); intravenous (IV) fluids; and pain medicine.

Often, doctors do a skin graft — a type of surgery where healthy skin is taken from an unburned part of the body and placed on the wound to help it heal.

Keep in Mind

Third-degree burns are a serious medical emergency and can be life threatening. If treated quickly, however, many burn cases can have good outcomes.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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