Types of burns
Burns are very common injuries that can be caused by heat (fires, hot liquids), electricity (wires, lightning), chemicals or the sun.
First-degree burns only involve the upper layer of skin. The skin will be red and painful, but will typically heal within a few days. Most sunburns are first-degree burns.
Related reading: First aid for sunburns
Second-degree burns are also red and painful, but slightly deeper and blisters may appear.
Third-degree burns go through all layers of the skin down to the bone and muscle. Such burns may be black or even white rather than red. And they may not even hurt because the nerves have been destroyed.
Third-degree burns are the most serious and must be seen by a doctor. But any burn can be serious if:
- The victim is very old or very young
- The burn is very large (covering an entire body part, such as arm or leg)
- The burn involves the face and/or eyes
- There are other dangerous factors, such as chemicals, an explosion, fire/smoke, or live electrical wires
When in doubt, call 911.
Treatment for burns
The basic first aid for all burns is surprisingly simple: Stop the burning!
- Remove the victim from the source of the burn.
- Cool the burn with cool or tepid water (not ice) for five to ten minutes. Running water from a sink, shower or hose is best, but depending on where the burn is located, soaked towels will work, too. Change the towels frequently as they will warm up.
- If the burn is from a chemical spill, use a sink, shower or hose to flush the burn for at least 15 minutes. Chemicals can also be harmful if absorbed into the skin, so seek medical help.
- If the burn is from a source of electricity, make sure the power is off before treating the victim.
- Lightly wrap or cover the burn with sterile, 4-inch gauze or roller gauze. Inflamed nerve endings are extremely sensitive and painful, and a light covering will help a little with the pain.
Also good to know:
- Don’t pop any blisters. That will open the skin up to infection.
- Don’t put ointments (or butter) on a burn. They don’t help and they can actually cause the skin to retain heat and cause more damage.
- Don’t try to clean or remove pieces of clothing from a serious burn. Leave it to a professional.
As always, prevention is key, so use simple precautions around fire, chemicals and electricity.