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First Aid for Burns

Do you know how to provide First Aid for burns? Many burn injuries occur in the home while doing everyday tasks like laundry or cooking a meal. Those everyday, run-of-the-mill moments can turn into dangerous situations with life-long effects, as demonstrated in the story below:

When the wires in her family's laundry room overheated, setting her home on fire, Hayley Dabbs of Eden, North Carolina began her journey as a burn survivor at the age of three. Now 19 years old, as she grew older, Hayley became increasingly self-conscious about the burn scars that covered 80% of her body.

Recently, Hayley’s story went viral on Facebook: “after years of hiding from herself and the world, she became tired of missing out on life.” Her inspiring message of hope for those suffering from self-image issues challenged those living with burn injuries to not let their injuries dictate their lives. Read more of Hayley’s story.


Recognizing and Treating Different Burns

If you find yourself in one of these situations, how can you help to reduce the life-altering effects of a serious burn? Knowing how to identify and treat different types of burns can be the difference between permanent damage and an infection-free and (relatively) fast recovery. There are various degrees and types of burns. Each has their own set of symptoms and best treatment methods. Learn what to look for so you know how to treat burns properly, whether on yourself or someone else.


Girl having her arm wrapped in gauze

1st degree burn (also called superficial burn)

First degree burns are the least serious because only the outer layer of skin is burned. They usually take about 3 to 6 days to heal. Common 1st degree burns are sunburns or burns from hot drinks. Symptoms include:

  • Red Skin
  • Swelling
  • Pain

Usually these more superficial burns do not require medical attention from a doctor. To treat a first degree burn you should:

  • Hold the burn under cool running water for several minutes
  • Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick bandage to avoid infection, depending on the severity of the burn.
  • Give the victim an aspirin or pain reliever
  • Soothe the area with a burn cream like [BurnFree]


2nd degree burn (also called partial-thickness burn)

A second degree burn occurs when the first and second layers of skin are burned. Its symptoms include:

  • Blisters
  • Severe Pain and swelling
  • Skin has a red and blotchy appearance

Depending on the severity of the second degree burn, the National Safety Council suggests that if the burn is no larger than 3 inches in diameter, treat it as a minor/first degree burn.

If the burn is larger than 3 inches in diameter:

  • Seek medical attention
  • Soak the burn in cool water for 15 minutes. If the burn is on the back or chest, gently pour cool water over it using a bucket or container.
  • If the burn is minor and small (but larger than 3 inches in diameter), place a cool, wet cloth or compress on the burn for at least 5 minutes.
  • If the burn is severe (we’re talking tons of blisters, redness, and swelling) keep soaking the burn in cool water until you can get to a doctor.
  • If the burn is extensive you can put cool, wet compresses on the burn, but do not put cloth directly on the wound. Cloth fibers will attach to it, making the pain worse—especially when the doctor has to rip it off to treat the wound. For tips on how to wrap the wound and apply a cool compress, check out [familyeducation.com.]
  • Do not break blisters or try to remove clothing stuck to the burn. Get to a doctor who can more effectively (and gently… and safely) remove melted-on or charred clothing.
  • Give the victim a pain killer or Ibuprofen (if they are an adult). Inform medical personnel which pain killer was given, how much, and at what time.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center also suggests elevating the burn above the heart.


3rd degree burn (also called full-thickness burn)

A third-degree burn occurs when all layers of the skin are burned and cause permanent damage to the skin, tissue, muscle, or even the bone. Its symptoms include:

  • Charred skin on the burn site
  • Skin may appear dry and white
  • Difficulty breathing (if smoke inhalation accompanies burn)

No ifs, ands, or buts about it—get this person to a doctor!

  • If they are on fire, have them stop, drop, and roll—or help them extinguish the fire by smothering it with a blanket.
  • Call 911.
  • Check that the victim is breathing. If necessary, use CPR to re-start circulation and breathing.
  • Continue to check vital signs (pulse, rate of breathing, blood pressure) until the ambulance arrives.
  • New York Time’s Health section suggests that you should take these steps to prevent shock:
    • Lay the person flat; elevate the feet about 12 inches.
    • Cover the person with a coat or blanket.
    • However, do NOT place the person in this shock position if a head, neck, back, or leg injury is suspected or if it makes the person uncomfortable.


What Other Types of Burns are there? How can I treat them?

Many times when we think of a burn, we just think of fire or sunburns. But there are several other types of burns that you can experience. Here are some tips for how to treat two of the most common:

Chemical burn:

  • Find out what chemical caused the burn.
  • Call 9-1-1.
  • Move the victim away from fumes of the chemical or ventilate the area.
  • Flush the area with running water for twenty minutes, wrap with a sterile bandage until Medical assistance arrives.
  • DO NOT remove any clothing before you begin flushing the area.
  • If the chemical burn is in the eyes or mouth:
    • Call 9-1-1 immediately.
    • Flush the burn until the ambulance arrives or you can get medical attention.

Electrical burn:

  • Make sure the victim is away from electrical source and that the current is not running through them still before you touch them.
  • Turn off the source of the electrical current if you can do so safely and quickly.
  • Check for breathing and administer CPR if needed.
  • Treat for shock.
  • Cover the affected area with a sterile bandage.
  • Seek medical attention.


What should you NEVER do when treating a burn?

According to the National Safety Council:

  • Never remove any clothing that is stuck to the burnt skin, wrap in a sterile dressing or clean sheet.
  • Do not soak large burn injuries in water—it may cause shock; use cool, wet compresses instead.
  • Never use ice on a burn.
  • Don’t put oils, butters, or ointments on severe second and third degree burns. Doing so may cause skin to fall off and increase chances of infection to the area.
  • Never pop blisters.


Burn injuries can have devastating effects. It is important to learn first aid for burns--the techniques you'll master will help minimize those negative effects and help the victim to recover successfully.

















One thought on “First Aid for Burns”

  • Larisa

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