The terms 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns are no longer used in Australia. However, I believe they are still used in some parts of the world. Also, due to the wonders of modern TV shows that still use the terms 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns, it is important to know how these relate to our current standard for classifying burns, because many patients will still use these terms.
1st degree burn
A 1st degree burn basically is a very minor burn that only affects the outer area of the skin (epidermis). There is some redness around the area, but no full blistering.
2nd degree burn
This burn is very similar to a 1st degree burn in the sense that the skin area is very red, but it is worse than a 1st degree burn because of the fact that it also has some blistering.
3rd degree burn
This is the very bad burn. In this burn, everything has been damaged, all the way down to the bone. There should be black charring throughout the whole burns area. The patient is unlikely to feel the pain at the site, because all the nerve cells will have been destroyed (however, they can still feel pain on the outer areas where there are some damaged and some intact nerve cells).
How do all these types of burns relate to what we have in Australia?
In Australia we have three main classifications of burns. These include: superficial, partial and full thickness.
Superficial burns are similar to the old 1st degree burn, in which the epidermis is damaged, there is redness, and there are no blisters
Partial thickness burns
Partial thickness burns are similar to 2nd degree burns. They still have damage to the epidermis, some of the dermis, redness, but they also have the inclusion of blistering
Full thickness burns
Full thickness burns are the most severe classification of burns, and is similar to 3rd degree burns. In these burns the patient will have damaged tissue from the epidermis all the way down to the bone and all tissues inbetween. These patients are at great risk of infection.