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First Aid for Burns

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The severity of burns is determined by the amount of damage to the tissues of the body. Burns are classified by degrees: first, second and third degree; the higher the degree the more serious the burn.

First degree burns are the least serious, involving the epidermis—the outermost layer of the skin. A burn in this category is characterized by pain, swelling and redness of the area. Other than redness of the skin there is no other tissue damage. A burn in this category usually heals on its own without any medical intervention.

Second degree burns involve the first and second layers of the skin, which are the epidermis and the dermis. This burn injury is characterized by severe pain, swelling, redness and blistering of the skin. A second degree burn is not considered serious if it is no larger than 2 to 3 inches; however, if the burn is larger than 3 inches, or it involves the area of the face, hands, feet, buttocks or groin go to the emergency room to be treated by a medical professional.

First aid for first and second degree burns

• The first response to treat a minor burn is to cool it down. If possible hold the burn under cool running water. If you cannot hold a burn under running water, immerse the burn.

• If there is blistering of the skin, do not attempt to break them.

• If immersing isn’t possible wrap the burn in cool moist towels. Cool water takes the pain away from the burn temporarily as it directs the heat away from the skin.

• Don’t ever use ice because it can cause frostbite.

• Once the burn has been cooled cover it with a band aid or with loose sterile gauze. Wrapping the burn keeps air from touching the skin. Just the movement of air on the skin will cause severe pain.


Third degree burns involve the entire thickness of the skin—and can involve fat, muscle and even bone. Third degree burns are painless because the nerve endings—pain receptors—have been burned away.

First aid for third degree burns

• Before you do anything else dial 911 for medical assistance.

• Do not remove clothing because the clothes may be burned into the skin and underlying tissues.

• Do not move the victim unless he/she is exposed to smoke or heat.

• Check for signs of life. If there is no breathing begin CPR

• In lieu of sterile bandages, cover the wounds with cool moist towels or cloths.

• Never immerse third degree burn injuries in water; this may cause the victim to go into shock, which is a medical emergency.


The areas that are burned may be hard and black or the areas may appear dry and white—this is called eschar—pronounced es-skar. Third degree burns are most likely to occur when people come into contact with corrosive chemicals, electricity, flames, scalding, or if clothing should catch on fire. Small children and elderly people are the most susceptible of being severely burned; however, anyone can be severely burned. A third degree burn is always a medical emergency.