How to Handle Burns: A First Aid Primer

Burns are painful and potentially serious injuries that require prompt and appropriate first aid. Whether it's a minor burn from cooking or a more severe burn from an accident, knowing how to respond can make a significant difference in the healing process. In this first aid primer, we'll cover the steps to handle burns effectively.

1. Assess the Severity:

Burns are categorized into three degrees based on their severity:

First-Degree Burns: These affect only the top layer of skin (the epidermis). They are typically red, painful, and may swell slightly. Examples include sunburns and mild scalds.

Second-Degree Burns: These affect both the epidermis and the layer beneath it (the dermis). They are characterized by redness, blistering, pain, and swelling. Second-degree burns can be superficial (partial-thickness) or deep (full-thickness).

Third-Degree Burns: These are the most severe and involve all layers of the skin, often extending into underlying tissues. The burned area may appear white, charred, or blackened, and there may be no pain due to nerve damage.

2. Prioritize Safety:

Before providing first aid, ensure the safety of both the victim and yourself:

  • Remove the person from the source of the burn if it's safe to do so.
  • Extinguish any flames by using a fire blanket or water.
  • If the burn resulted from a chemical exposure, ensure that the area is safe and follow proper chemical safety protocols.

3. First Aid for Burns:

The type of first aid you provide depends on the degree and size of the burn.

For First-Degree Burns:

  1. Cool the burn: Run cool (not cold) water over the burn for about 10 minutes to reduce heat and alleviate pain. Do not use ice, as it can damage the skin further.
  2. Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help ease pain and inflammation if needed.
  3. Keep it clean: Gently wash the burn with mild soap and water. Avoid scrubbing, as this can damage the delicate skin.
  4. Apply a burn ointment: Apply a sterile burn ointment or an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to keep the burn moist and help prevent infection.
  5. Protect the burn: Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick dressing or a clean, dry cloth.

For Second-Degree Burns (Superficial Partial-Thickness):

  1. Cool the burn: Run cool (not cold) water over the burn for about 10 minutes or until the pain subsides.
  2. Do not pop blisters: If blisters have formed, leave them intact. They serve as a protective barrier against infection.
  3. Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate pain and inflammation.
  4. Apply burn ointment: Use a sterile burn ointment or antibiotic ointment, and cover the burn with a non-stick dressing.

For Second-Degree Burns (Deep Partial-Thickness) and Third-Degree Burns:

  1. Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention. These burns require professional medical care.
  2. While waiting for help, do not attempt to cool the burn with water, and do not apply ointments or creams.
  3. Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth or sterile dressing to help prevent infection.

4. Do Not:

  • Do not use adhesive bandages directly on burns, as they can stick to the skin and cause further damage.
  • Do not apply ice, butter, or other home remedies to burns.
  • Do not break blisters on second-degree burns, as this can increase the risk of infection.

5. Seek Medical Attention If:

  • The burn is large or covers a significant portion of the body.
  • The burn affects the face, hands, feet, genitals, or major joints.
  • The burn appears deep or full-thickness.
  • The victim is a child or elderly individual.
  • The burn is caused by chemicals, electricity, or inhalation of hot gases.

Remember that proper first aid for burns is crucial, but severe burns always require professional medical evaluation and treatment. By knowing how to respond to burns and when to seek medical help, you can provide effective care and support for burn victims.

 CPR + First Aid Certification

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