First Aid for Burns - Caution, Action to Take and Home Care

By Max Team in Emergency & Trauma

Jan 21 , 2022 | 3 min read


A burn is a type of injury to the flesh caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, light, radiation, or friction. Most burns affect only the skin. To distinguish a minor burn from a serious burn, the first step is determining the extent of damage to body tissues. The three burn classifications to help you determine emergency care are:

First-Degree Burn

The least serious burns are those in which only the outer layer of skin is burnt, but not all the way through. The skin is usually red, swollen and painful. Treat a first-degree burn as a minor burn unless it involves substantial portions of the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks or a major joint, which requires emergency medical attention.

Second-Degree Burn

When the second layer of skin (dermis) is also burnt, the injury is called a second-degree burn. Blisters develop and the skin takes on an intensely reddened, splotchy appearance. Second-degree burns produce severe pain and swelling. If the second-degree burn is no larger than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, treat it as a minor burn. If the burned area is larger or if the burn is on the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or over a major joint, treat it as major burn and get medical help immediately. For minor burns, including first-degree burns and second-degree burns limited to an area no larger than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, take the following action:

  • Watch for signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, fever, swelling or oozing. If infection develops, seek medical help
  • Avoid re-injuring or tanning. If the burns are less than a year old, re-injury or tanning may cause more extensive pigmentation changes.
  • Use sunscreen on the affected area for at least a year
  • Minor burns usually heal without further treatment. They may heal with pigment changes, meaning the healed area may be of a different colour from the surrounding skin


  • In case of large burns, don't use ice. Putting ice directly on a burn can cause a victim's body to become too cold and may result in further damage to the wound
  • Don't apply butter or ointments to the burn. This can cause infection
  • Don't break blisters. Broken blisters are more vulnerable to infection

Third-Degree Burn

The most serious burns involve all layers of the skin and cause permanent tissue damage. Fat, muscle and even bone may be affected. Areas may be charred black or appear dry and white. A difficulty may occur if smoke inhalation accompanies the burn. For major burns, call for emergency medical help. Until an emergency unit arrives, follow these steps:

  • Don't pull o burnt clothing. However, do make sure the victim is no longer in contact with smoldering materials or exposed to smoke or heat
  • Don't immerse large severe burns in cold water. Doing so can cause a drop in body temperature (hypothermia) and deterioration of blood pressure and circulation (shock)
  • Check for signs of circulation (breathing, coughing or movement). If there is no breathing or other sign of circulation, begin resuscitation by basic life support
  • Elevate the burnt body part or parts. Raise above heart level, if possible.
  • Cover the area of the burn. Use a cool, moist, sterile bandage; clean, moist cloth; or moist towels
  • Get an anti-tetanus shot. Burns are susceptible to tetanus. If your last shot was more than five years ago, your doctor may recommend a tetanus shot booster

Home Care

  • Cool the burn. Hold the burnt area under cool (not cold) running water for 10 or 15 minutes or until the pain subsides or else immerse the burn in cold water or cool it with cold compresses
  • Cooling the burn reduces swelling by conducting heat away from the skin
  • Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Don't use fluffy cotton or other material that may get lint in the wound. Avoid putting pressure on the burnt skin. Bandaging keeps air off the burn, reduces pain and protects blistered skin