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First Aid for Burns

Last updated March 5, 2018

BruceBlaus

A Burn is a reaction of the skin and possibly deeper tissues caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, cold, radiation, and/or friction.


IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Read This First

All severe Burns should be evaluated by a trained medical professional, as soon as possible! DO NOT wait! Failure to obtain evaluation as soon as possible may result in serious injury or death. Call 911 (or your local emergency number) immediately, if you have experienced severe Burns.

What is Burns?

  • A Burn is a reaction of the skin and possibly deeper tissues caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, cold, radiation, and/or friction
  • Burns are classified as first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree based on their increasing severity. Typically, appropriate home care and medications may be sufficient for milder skin Burns (1st and 2nd degree Burns)

What are the Causes of Burns?

The cause factors for Burns could include:

  • Heat
  • Electricity
  • Exposure to sun
  • Chemicals
  • Radiation
  • Cold
  • Friction

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Burns?

There are four kinds of Burns:

  • First degree burns; where only the outer layer of skin (epidermis) is burnt
  • Second degree burns; involves the first two layers of skin (epidermis and dermis), but does not go beyond the dermis
  • Third degree burns; involves all the skin layers and extends to the subcutaneous tissues
  • Fourth degree burns; involves the muscles, ligaments and bones

The signs and symptoms of Burns include:

  • First degree burn causes redness, pain, and some swelling
  • Second degree burn symptoms include swelling of skin, white/charred appearance, blisters, and severe pain
  • Third degree burns symptoms include dry, leathery skin and swelling. These are mostly painless, as the nerve-endings are damaged
  • Fourth degree burns are serious and symptoms include dry, painless, black and charred skin with eschar (dead tissue that falls off). Depending on the extent of the burns; it might cause shock and will require hospitalization

How is First Aid administered for Burns?

First Aid tips for first and second degree Burns:

  • Cool the burnt area under cool running water or cool water bath, NOT ice
  • Cover the blister with a sterile dressing
  • Use over-the-counter pain medication, such as tylenol or ibuprofen for pain relief
  • Ensure tetanus shots are up-to-date
  • Monitor burn for signs of infection
  • Seek medical assistance on suspicion of infection

First Aid tips for third and fourth degree Burns:

  • Call 911
  • If the person is still on fire; an individual nearby should cover the person in a blanket or a large clean cloth and help them tip over and roll around to extinguish the fire
  • Try to keep the victim away from the smoke
  • DO NOT immerse the individual in cold water or remove burned clothing
  • Cover the burnt area with sterile, cool, moist gauze/cloth
  • Assess airway, breathing, and circulation. Administer CPR if no breathing or other signs of circulation is observed
  • Help the person stay calm until medical professionals arrive
  • Raise the burnt area above heart level, if possible
  • If toes and fingers are burnt, use adhesive tape to separate the fingers and toes

Who should administer First Aid for Burns?

  • If third or fourth degree Burn is suspected, the first thing to do is call 9-1-1
  • If the person is still on fire; an individual nearby should cover the person in a blanket or a large clean cloth and help them tip over and roll around to extinguish the fire
  • A bystander can also administer some basic First Aid, which is described (See ‘How is First Aid administered?’)

What is the Prognosis of Burns?

  • In case of first and second degree Burns, the prognosis is good and the patient only has discolored skin in the burn area, once the blister heals
  • In case of third and fourth degree Burns, the prognosis varies based on the severity, extent, and site of the Burn

How can Burns be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent Burns:

  • Follow safety protocols associated with machines, cooking equipment that have a fire hazard
  • Use mitts (protective glove) and other protective gear, when working with hot objects
  • Use fire alarms and smoke detectors to limit exposure, in case of a fire
  • Sunburns can be avoided by limiting time spent outdoors on sunny days and using appropriate sun screen
  • Keep chemicals and other possible (burn-related) causative factors away from children
  • Child-proof your home, to help prevent fire accidents

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • The most crucial step in case of a third/fourth degree Burn, is to immediately call 9-1-1
  • Take steps to prevent shock. Shock can be prevented by making the victim lay down and raising their legs 12 inches above ground level and covering them with a blanket. Though this should be avoided if it is uncomfortable for the patient

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 8, 2013
Last updated: March 5, 2018