Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to Treat a Burn

Burns are a very common injury. Minor burns will heal without much medical attention, but severe burns require special care to prevent infection and reduce the severity of scarring. Follow these steps to treat someone who has been burned.


  1. 1
    Determine the severity of the burn. Your approach to treatment will vary depending upon how badly the victim has been burned.[1]

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    • First degree burn - This is the least severe burn and only involves the outer layer of skin (the epidermis). The skin will often be somewhat red and painful. Sunburns are usually first degree burns.
    • Second degree burn - Second degree burns occur when the epidermis has been burned through and the second layer of skin (the dermis) has also been burned. These are much more painful than first degree burns and are usually accompanied swelling and blisters. A bad sunburn or a sunburn on someone with very light skin can be considered a 2nd degree burn. If this is the case, do not be alarmed if the blisters are yellow in color; although gross, they will pop normally and there will be new skin underneath (after the layer of crackly film breaks off). 2nd degree burns related to the sun may or may not swell.
    • Third degree burn - The most severe type of burns, third degree burns occur when all the layers of the skin are burned through and the burn has reached the underlying tissue. Because the nerves have been destroyed, third degree burns are painless; skin will be dry and leathery, and frequently black, white or brown in color.[2]

Treatment of Minor Burns

First degree and second degree burns that are fewer than three inches in diameter are generally considered minor burns.[1] These types of burns usually heal quickly with minimal care. Follow these steps to administer first aid for minor burns.

  1. 1
    Immerse the burn in cool or cold water. Ideally, you should hold the burned area under cold running water for about five minutes (or till the pain goes away). Do not put ice on the burn, as this can cause further damage to the skin.
  2. 2
    Do not put on a bandage. Bandages will cut off air so it will take longer to heal.
  3. 3
    Take an analgesic (pain reliever). Any of the common over-the-counter pain relievers will work.
  4. 4
    Look out for signs of infection. Infection is uncommon with burns of this type, but is possible if blisters pop and are exposed to dirt.

Treatment of Major Burns

Second degree burns covering a larger area, third degree burns and any significant burns on the face, hands, feet, groin, a large joint (e.g., knee or elbow) should be treated as major burns.[1] With all major burns, seek medical help as soon as possible. Follow the steps below to care for these burns until you can get the injured person into the care of a doctor.

  1. 1
    Call for emergency services immediately.
  2. 2
    Do not remove any embedded charred clothing or material. Removing clothing from burned areas is likely to cause bleeding.[3] However, if not stuck to the burn, you should remove jewelry and unburned clothing if may constrict the burned area.[4]
  3. 3
    Apply cool, wet compresses to the burned area for a very brief period of time.[4]. This will reduce body temperature somewhat. However, do not use ice or immerse the affected area in cold water for extended periods of time.
  4. 4
    Be prepared to treat the burn victim for shock. Look for shock symptoms: weak, rapid pulse, clammy skin, disorientation or unconsciousness, nausea, combativeness.
  5. 5
    Cover the burned area with cool, moist, sterile bandages.[1]
  6. 6
    If possible, elevate the burn above the heart. This procedure will assist in reducing the likelihood or severity of shock.
  7. 7
    Stay with the victim until help arrives.

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  • Only use clean, pure, cool water OR saline solution if available as first aid for major burns and protect the area with a sterile or very clean cloth, such as a sheet (but keep the person warm in cold weather) and seek immediate medical attention.

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  • Wash your hands before touching or treating burns. Wear gloves if at all possible
  • Never pop or burst any blister caused by a burn.
  • This advice should not be substituted for medical attention. If in doubt, consult a physician immediately.
  • These instructions are only suggestions and are only for thermal (heat) burns including ultraviolet lights or sunburns.
  • Note that there are also 4th, 5th and 6th degree burns, but these terms are only used by medical professionals. 2nd degree burn victims may want to be seen by their p/c doctor rather soon, but not as an emergency. Anyone burned to the 3rd degree or above needs to be transported by ambulance (or LifeFlight, depending on distance) to the nearest trauma center. However, if you're just curious: 4th degree is when flesh is completely burned through and is sloughing away in pieces, with bone visible, 5th degree is when organs and muscles are burned to any extent, and 6th degree is when everything, including bones, is burned to a crisp (if a burn gets that bad, the victim is usually about to die if they haven't already).

edit Warnings

  • Do not treat major/serious burns using lotion, cream, oil, shortening (grease), butter or any other ointments.
    • Such first aid slows down medical treatment because it will need to be removed when proper medical care begins on the damaged areas.
  • Chemical "burns" should be flushed with clean water for several minutes. Any contaminated clothing/articles will need to be removed immediately.
  • Some dry caustic materials should be lightly scraped or brushed off with a paper tissue. Adding water to these burns may cause more burning.
  • See a doctor as soon as possible for any severe burns because they will not heal properly without medical care and are beyond the scope of this article.
  • Burns from "radioactive" material are a whole different matter.

Things You'll Need

  • Cool water, not very cold
  • Analgesic
  • Sterile bandages

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