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What are burns?

Burns are a type of injury caused by heat. The heat can be thermal, electrical, chemical or electromagnetic energy. Most burn accidents occur at home. About 75 percent of all burn injuries in children are preventable.

Scalding is the leading cause of burn injury for children while smoking and open flame are the leading causes of burn injury for older adults.

What are the different types of burns?

A burn injury usually results from an energy transfer to the body. There are many types of burns caused by thermal, radiation, chemical, or electrical contact:

  • Thermal burns. Burns due to external heat sources which raise the temperature of the skin and tissues and cause tissue cell death or charring. Hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, and flames, when coming in contact with the skin, can cause thermal burns.
  • Radiation burns. Burns caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, or to other sources of radiation such as X-ray.
  • Chemical burns. Burns caused by strong acids, alkalies, detergents, or solvents coming into contact with the skin and/or eyes.
  • Electrical burns. Burns from electrical current, either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).

There are three types of burns: first degree, second degree and third degree. The type of burn, how it was caused and how it is healing will decide your child's treatment.

  • First Degree burnsA first-degree burn affects only the outer layer of skin (epidermis). These burns are pink or red and painful and dry (like a sunburn). There are no blisters. These burns heal in about three to seven days without scaring. 
  • Second Degree burns. A second-degree burn affects the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and part of the inner layer of skin (dermis). Second degree burns are painful and will have blisters. Most second degree burns heal within two to three weeks typically without leaving a scar. Some deep second degree burns take more than three weeks to heal, may require a skin graft and may leave a scar. 
  • Third Degree burns. A third-degree burn damages affects the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and the inner layer of skin (dermis). A child with a third-degree burn needs immediate medical care. These burns make the skin look shiny and white. There is not a lot of pain due to the damaged nerve endings. Third degree burns often require a skin graft and take at least three to six weeks to heal.
Children's Team

Children's Team


Gary Rogers

Gary Rogers

Division Chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery


Trauma and Burn Surgery

Children's National has the only Pediatric Level I Trauma Center in the Washington, D.C., area and accepts trauma patients from all geographic areas. We partner with the Maryland Shock Trauma System to provide coverage in Montgomery, Prince George's County, St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles counties.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Our team of pediatric plastic surgeons have dedicated their careers to plastic surgery procedures for babies, children and teens.


The Division of Dermatology at Children's National Hospital continues to expand services as more families seek our expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the skin, hair and nails.

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