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Many burns are minor and can be treated with first aid; others burns are more serious and require medical attention. The severity of a burn can depend on many factors, including:

  • The age of the victim- burns can be more severe in babies, young children and the elderly
  • The size of the burn- how much of the body is affected, often described as a percentage, which may be an indicator of survivability
  • The depth of the burn- how deeply the burn extends down into the subcutaneous tissue
  • The location of the burn- burns located on the hands, face, groin/genitals, neck, hands and feet can have severe functional and cosmetic consequences
  • The presence of other injuries- burns combined with other severe injuries may affect outcome and survivability

It is important to be able to recognize the type of burn in order to provide the correct care.

Type of Burn Appearance & Sensation Complications First Aid Treatment
First Degree Redness; Dry skin; Painful Infection First degree- cool the burn with cool running water for 10-20 minutes, or apply a cool wet compress. Remove rings from burned fingers as the area may swell. Apply lotion or aloe vera gel for comfort. May take an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed. Sunburns are an example of first-degree burn.
Second Degree (Partial Thickness) Red with blisters; Moist; Painful Infection and cellulitis; scarring and contractures; may require debridement Treat as for a first degree burn unless the burned area is large.Seek medical help for larger burns, especially those on the hands, face, neck, groin or feet. Leave large blisters intact- do NOT puncture. If small blisters rupture (smaller than your fingernail) cleanse the area with mild soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment and a non-stick dressing. Seek medical care for signs of infection (increased pain, redness, swelling, oozing from the wound)
Third Degree (Full Thickness) Stiff; dry; leathery; white or brown color; Painless

Scarring and contractures; May require debridement or amputation; large third degree burns may result in death

Call 9-1-1. If it is safe to do so, remove the victim from further contact with heat and/or smoke. Do not remove clothing that has adhered to the skin. Remove belts, jewelry or other restrictive items from the victim as the burned areas will swell very quickly. Do not immerse very large burns in cool water as this may lead to excessive loss of body heat. Elevate burned areas if possible. Cover burned areas with a clean cloth or a sheet. Monitor breathing and circulation and perform CPR if it becomes necessary.
Fourth Degree Black; charred; Painless Possible gangrene; Usually leads to loss of function and sometimes death As for a full thickness burn

Smoke inhalation may be as deadly as severe burns. If a burn victim has soot around or in their mouth or nose, this indicates that the airway may be affected and breathing may become a problem. If you suspect smoke inhalation, call 9-1-1.

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