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First Aid 

Burns

Burns are characterized by skin exposure to an extremely hot or cold substance that causes tissue damage. There are multiple types of burns and levels of burn severity. Types of burns include dry burns, scalding, electrical burns, radiation burns, and chemical burns. Burns can be superficial (affects only the outermost skin layer), partial thickness (affects the epidermis and forms blisters), and full thickness (affects all skin layers and may involve damage to muscles, nerves, or blood vessels. Most burns involve red and peeling skin, swelling, blisters, and white or charred skin in severe cases. Always seek medical care if an individual has a major burn or if you are in doubt about their condition. 

Characteristics of major burns:

  • Deep injury

  • Dry and leathery skin

  • Charred, white, brown, or black patches of skin

  • Burn diameter greater than 3 inches

  • Burn that covers feet, hands, face, groin, buttocks, or major joint(s)

Characteristics of minor burns:

  • Pain 

  • Blisters

  • Superficial redness (appears like a sunburn)

  • Burn diameter less than 3 inches

To treat major burns, follow the following steps:

  1. Remove the injured person from the source of the burn and make sure he or she is breathing well. Have someone call for emergency medical help or call yourself. 

  2. Gently remove any jewelry, belts, clothing, etc. surrounding the burned area before swelling increases. Do not remove any clothing stuck to the burn itself. 

  3. Flood the burn with cool tap water for 10-20 minutes (at least 20 minutes for chemical burns); do not use ice or iced water. You may also cool the burn with a moist bandage or clean cloth. Do not let the burned area touch the ground and do not immerse the burned area in water because it may cause the injured person to become hypothermic, especially in small children or elderly individuals.

  4. When the burn is cooled, cover the burned area with plastic wrap to prevent infection. If no plastic wrap is available, cover the burn with a loose fitting gauze or a sterile non-stick dressing. 

  5. Encourage the injured individual to take sips of cool water.

  6. Monitor the injured individual’s vital signs and monitor for signs of shock, including a pale complexion, shallow breathing, and/or fainting. 

To treat minor burns, follow the following steps:

  1. Remove the individual from the source of the burn.

  2. Flood the burned area with cool water for 10-20 minutes. You may also use a cool wet compress. Do not use ice, ice water, creams, or greasy substances such as butter. Do not break any blisters that form.

  3. Gently remove tight rings, clothing, etc. from the burned area before swelling increases.

  4. Gently apply lotion such as aloe vera or moisturizing lotion to the burned area.

  5. Cover the burned area with plastic wrap, a loose sterile dressing, or loose gauze.

  6. Encourage the injured individual to take sips of cool water.

  7. Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen if necessary. Make sure to read all labels on medications, follow all instructions and precautions, and to not exceed the recommended dosages.

  8. Seek medical care if the individual is a child or if you are in any doubt about the individual’s condition.

Burn Chart

Friction Blister

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Superficial Burn (1st Degree)

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Partial Thickness Burn (2nd Degree)

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Full Thickness Burn (3rd Degree)

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Resources

Austin, M., Crawford, R., & Armstrong, V. J. (2014). First aid manual. (G. M. Piazza, Ed.) (5th ed.). DK Publishing. https://kuiyem.ku.edu.tr/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/American-College-of-Emergency-Physicians-ACEP-First-Aid-Manual.pdf.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, January 30). Burns: First aid. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-burns/basics/art-20056649

National Health Service. (2018, September 24). Burns and scalds. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/burns-and-scalds/.