Scalded or Burned?

What's the difference between scalds and burns?

second degree burn from scalding hot water
Boiling water scalded this reader and caused a second degree burn. Dana Walters


What's the difference between scalds and burns? 

Search the internet for burn treatment and you see lots of examples of folks injured by hot water. Often, these injuries are referred to as scalds. You may be wondering if there's a difference between scalds and burns.


Scalds are burns that come from wet heat, such as hot water or steam. Make no mistake, however; a scald is just a burn by a another name.

What is a Burn?

Burns cause damage to the skin layers. The degree of burn is based on the depth of the burn injury, meaning how many layers the burn affected and how deep into each layer the burn went. There are three layers of tissue that make up skin: epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous.

First degree burns only affect the epidermis. Second degree burns usually kill the epidermis and extend into the dermis (a thicker and more complicated layer). Third degree burns destroy the first and second layers, extending into the subcutaneous, which is mostly made up of fat cells.

Do Scalds and Burns Behave Differently?

Scalds burn very quickly and the moisture holds the heat onto the skin longer. They almost always do significant damage to the epidermis, which means most scalds develop into second degree burns. Very rarely do scalds reach the severity of a third degree burn.

As far as treatment goes, there's absolutely no difference between the two.

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