A burn is damage to your body's tissues caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight or radiation. Scalds from hot liquids and steam, building fires and flammable liquids and gases are the most common causes of burns. Rapid first aid for burns can stave off infections and thwart additional pain.
For Minor Burns
- If the skin is unbroken, run cool water over the area of the burn or soak it in a cool water bath (not ice water). Keep the area submerged for at least 5 minutes. A clean, cold, wet towel will also help reduce pain.
- Calm and reassure the person.
- After flushing or soaking, cover the burn with a dry, sterile bandage or clean dressing.
- Protect the burn from pressure and friction.
- Over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve pain and swelling. Do NOT give children under 12 aspirin. Once the skin has cooled, moisturizing lotion also can help.
- Minor burns will usually heal without further treatment. However, if a second-degree burn covers an area more than two to three inches in diameter, or if it is located on the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint, treat the burn as a major burn.
- Make sure the person is up to date on tetanus immunization.
For Major Burns
- If someone is on fire, tell the person to stop, drop and roll. Wrap the person in thick material to smother the flames (a wool or cotton coat, rug, or blanket). Douse the person with water.
- Call 911.
- Make sure that the person is no longer in contact with smoldering materials. However, do not remove burned clothing that is stuck to the skin.
- Make sure the person is breathing. If breathing has stopped, or if the person's airways are blocked, open the airways. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
- Cover the burn area with a dry sterile bandage (if available) or clean cloth. A sheet will do if the burned area is large. Do NOT apply any ointments. Avoid breaking burn blisters.
- If fingers or toes have been burned, separate them with dry, sterile, non-adhesive dressings.
- Elevate the body part that is burned above the level of the heart. Protect the burn area from pressure and friction.
- Take steps to prevent shock. Lay the person flat, elevate the feet about 12 inches, and 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.
- Continue to monitor the person's vital signs until medical help arrives. This means pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure.
See a doctor if the burn is on your face, joint, genitals or another sensitive area. Also seek medical attention if a first or second degree burn covers more than two or three inches in diameter.