Get the Facts

Burn First Aid

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.

First aid assistance for major burns:

  • Do not apply ointment, butter, ice, medications, fluffy cotton, adhesive bandages, cream or oil spray. These can interfere with the healing process.
  • Do not allow the burn to become contaminated. Avoid coughing or breathing on the burn.
  • Do not touch or peel blistered and dead skin.
  • Do not give the victim anything to ingest 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, blocking the flow of air into the lungs.

Call 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 are present
  • Airway burn has occurred

Treatment of Minor Burns

If a minor burn occurs, there are several steps you can take for immediate treatment of the burn. Run cool water, not ice water, over the areas where the skin is unbroken. Soak the burned skin in this cool water. Keep the burn under water for at least five minutes. Do not apply water if the burn occurred in a cold environment. Instead, use a clean, cold and wet towel to reduce the pain.

Cover the burn with a sterile bandage or clean cloth and protect it from pressure and friction.

Over-the-counter pain medications may help reduce inflammation and swelling as well as help with the pain.

Minor burns usually heal without more treatment. Treat a burn as a major burn if the area is more than two to three (2 to 3) inches in diameter or if it is located on the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or major joints.

Treatment of Major Burns

If a major burn occurs, there are several steps you can take to immediately treat and care for the burn. “Stop, drop and roll” is a helpful tool if your clothes catch on fire.

If someone else has caught fire, douse them with water, wrap them in a thick, non-synthetic material such as wool or cotton or lay them on the ground flat and roll them.

If clothing cannot be removed from the victim make sure the victim is not in contact with smoldering materials.

If the victim has stopped breathing or his/her airway is blocked, open the airway and perform rescue breathing and CPR as needed.

If the victim is breathing, cover the burn area with a moist, cool sterile bandage or clean cloth. Do not apply ointments and be careful not to break burn blisters.

Separate the victim’s fingers and toes with dry, sterile, non-adhesive bandages.

Protect the burned area from pressure and friction by elevating it. To prevent shock, lay the victim flat, elevate the feet 12 inches and cover the victim with a coat or blanket. Do not put the victim in this position if he or she is uncomfortable or if you suspect a head, neck, back or leg injury.

Until medical help arrives, continue to monitor victims’ pulse, rate of breathing and blood pressure if possible.