Third-degree burns are among the most serious that can occur. Medical professionals also refer to them as “full-thickness burns” because they penetrate through the layers of skin to affect the tissues underneath.

While you can perform self-treatment on less serious burns, there is really nothing you can do for a third-degree burn other than obtain emergency medical attention. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs of a third-degree burn. It can also be helpful to know about the potential complications, as well as the possible treatments.

Symptoms

You can often recognize a third-degree burn by its appearance. The area of a third-degree burn can range in color from dark brown to waxy white. The surface may appear leathery or charred, and raised somewhat from the surface of the skin.

Despite the severity of a third-degree burn, there is little pain compared to other, less serious burn injuries. This is because nerve endings in the skin have often sustained so much damage that they are no longer able to send pain signals to the brain.

Complications

Ironically, a third-degree burn can cause you to lose body heat, meaning that hypothermia is a possible complication. You can also lose significant amounts of blood as the result of a severe burn, which can lead to another dangerous complication called hypovolemia.

Part of the function of the skin is to prevent bacteria from entering the body and causing infection. Because a third-degree burn causes such severe damage, you may be susceptible to life-threatening infections, such as sepsis or tetanus.

Treatment

A third-degree burn causes such severe damage to the skin that a surgical graft is often necessary to replace the damaged area. The surgeon may harvest a skin graft from an uninjured part of your body. Synthetic grafts are also available. Without grafting, the skin contracts as it heals. Not only can this result in severe scarring, but the contracture can actually become tight enough to restrict your movement.