first aid for thermal burns

photo of burn to the skin

For All Burns

  1. Stop Burning Immediately

Put out fire or stop the person’s contact with hot liquid, steam, or other material.

Help the person “stop, drop, and roll” to smother flames.

Remove smoldering material from the person.

Remove hot or burned clothing. If clothing sticks to skin, cut or tear around it.

  1. Remove Constrictive Clothing Immediately

Take off jewelry, belts, and tight clothing. Burns can swell quickly.

Burns are sometimes categorised by depth and damage to skin and underlying structures.

Then take the following steps.

For First-Degree Burns (Affecting Top Layer of Skin)

  1. Cool Burn

Hold burned skin under cool (not cold) running water or immerse in cool water until pain subsides.

Use compresses if running water isn’t available.

  1. Protect Burn

Cover with sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth.

Do not apply butter or ointments, which can cause infection.

  1. Treat Pain

Give over-the-counter pain reliever

  1. When to See a Doctor

Seek medical help if:

You see signs of infection, like increased pain, redness, swelling, fever, or oozing.

The person needs tetanus or booster shot, depending on date of last injection. Tetanus booster should be given every 10 years.

Redness and pain last more than a few hours.

Pain worsens.

  1. Follow Up

The doctor will examine the burn and may prescribe antibiotics and pain medication.

For Second-Degree Burns (Affecting Top 2 Layers of Skin)

  1. Cool Burn

Immerse in cool water for 10 or 15 minutes.

Use compresses if running water isn’t available.

Don’t apply ice. It can lower body temperature and cause further damage.

Don’t break blisters or apply butter or ointments, which can cause infection.

  1. Protect Burn

Cover loosely with sterile, nonstick bandage and secure in place with gauze or tape.

  1. Prevent Shock

Unless the person has a head, neck, or leg injury, or it would cause discomfort:

Lay the person flat.

Elevate feet about 12 inches.

Elevate burn area above heart level, if possible.

Cover the person with coat or blanket.

  1. See a Doctor

The doctor can test burn severity, prescribe antibiotics and pain medications, and administer tetanus shot, if needed.

For Third-Degree Burns

  1. Call emergency numbers, or seek help from others.
  2. Follow above steps for 1st and 2nd degree burn

Separate burned toes and fingers with dry, sterile dressings.

For an airway burn, do not place pillow under the person’s head when the person is lying down. This can close the airway.

Have a person with a face burn sit up.

Check pulse and breathing to monitor for shock until emergency help arrives.

  1. See a Doctor

Doctors will give oxygen and fluid, if needed, and treat the burn.


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