What To Do

When a burn occurs, it is human instinct to attempt to treat the victim immediately. However,
some first aid decisions can actually harm the victim and complicate the burn injury.

  • Do not apply ointment, butter, ice, medications, fluffy cotton, adhesive bandages, cream or oil spray because these interfere with the healing process.
  • Do not allow the burn to become contaminated; avoid coughing or breathing on the burn.
  • Do not bother blistered and dead skin.
  • Do not give the victim anything to eat if he/she has a severe burn.
  • Do not immerse a severe burn in cold water or apply cold compresses; this can cause shock.
  • Do not place a pillow under a victim's head if he/she has an airway burn because the airway could close.

  • Call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance immediately if:
  • the victim has a severe or extensive burn
  • the victim has a chemical or electrical burn
  • the victim shows signs of shock
  • the victim has an airway burn

First-degree burns affect the outer layer of skin, which is called the epidermis. They are moist, red in color and cause pain, redness and swelling. First-degree burns are partial-thickness burns because of their depth. They will heal spontaneously. A sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn.

Second-degree burns are also partial-thickness burns. The second-degree burn is a serious burn that causes destruction of tissue layers deep into the skin. Second-degree burns involve destruction of both the outer and the underlying layers of skin. It affects all of the epidermal layers and extends into the dermis. These burns are classified as either superficial or deep. Superficial burns affect the outermost part of the dermis, which causes pain, is hypersensitive to touch and usually causes blisters and redness. Deep burns cause damage to the deepest layers of the dermis. They appear like the superficial burns but usually are dry and white. These burns are usually painful, may take three to four weeks to heal and may result in thick scarring. These burns are usually caused by contact with hot liquid and flames. The burned area looks like blisters and the skin is often cherry red or pink. Second-degree burns are usually treated without surgery but sometimes need skin grafting.

Third-degree burns are the most serious of all burns where all the layers of skin are destroyed. Sometimes third-degree burns also affect underlying tissue. They extend deeper into the skin and destroy all of the epidermis and dermal layers, extending to the subcutaneous layers. This turns the skin brown or black, gives it a leathery appearance and often makes it separate from the surrounding tissue. The nerve endings are destroyed from the burn and therefore these burns are usually not painful. Third-degree burns are typically caused by contact with hot liquid, flame or electricity. After being burned, the skin appears white, pearly or leathery. The skin must be replaced either through transplantation or grafting. Treating third-degree burns usually involves debridement, which is the removal of dead skin and surgical skin grafting.