Burn First Aid

For your convenience, we’ve listed instructions on how to care for both minor and more serious burns immediately following the incident. These instructions DO NOT take the place of being seen by a Lourdes medical professional. Please call (337) 470-BURN (2876) to speak with one of our team members.

Initial First Aid Treatment for Minor Burns
When a burn injury occurs, it causes a break in the skin and can lead to an infection if not treated appropriately. In fact, even a small burn has the potential to become infected. If you are concerned, seek medical attention as soon as possible. For large burns, or if you think the individual’s life is in danger, call 911. Remember, if you call 911 using a cell phone, you may or may not get the local 911 for the area you may be in. Remain calm and provide the operator with the necessary information to get the EMS personnel to you. Burns are primarily divided into three categories: first-degree (superficial burns), second-degree (partial thickness burns) and third-degree (full thickness burns). Burns can progress in the first few days—blisters may form or burns can become deeper (this is what happens when a sunburn blisters the next day.) How these types of burns are treated initially will determine the most successful outcome.

First-Degree Burns
These burns involve the outer-most layer of skin and are usually associated with sunburn or a flash burn. The skin is usually still intact, but may appear to be red, very warm or hot to touch and painful. There may also be small blisters, and swelling in and around the area of injury. Initial first-aid treatment for a first-degree burn includes the following: 
  1. Stop the burning process: cool the burn with running cool (not cold) water for at least 5 minutes. Do not use ice, as this may cause further skin damage. Do not over cool. If the victim starts to shiver, stop the cooling process. Do not use any butter, ointments or other home remedies on the burn. Such substances may trap the heat in the tissue and make the burn worse.  
  2. Remove all jewelry, watches, rings and clothing around the burned area as soon as possible. Clean areas with soap and cool water twice daily. 
  3. Administer an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain control. Follow the directions on the label. Consult a physician or health care provider if the pain is not relieved.  
  4. If the areas has blisters or there is a break in the skin, cover the burn with a sterile gauze. Make sure to wrap the burned area loosely to avoid putting too much pressure on the burn tissue.  
  5. First-degree (minor) burns will usually heal without further treatment.  
  6. Seek medical attention if there is a persistent fever or pain not relieved by medication, or if there is redness that extends beyond the border of the burn. 
  7. Drink plenty of fluids (water or electrolyte-containing solutions such as Gatorade™) if the person appears to be dehydrated.
  8. Do not break any blisters. Leave intact.
  9. Do not delay seeking medical attention if the burn is larger than the size of the victim’s hand.

Second-Degree Burns
These burns occur when the second layer of skin (dermis) is burned. This burn usually has the following characteristics: very red, blister formation, extremely painful and a fair amount of swelling. In general, if a second-degree burn is smaller than 2-3 inches (7 centimeters), it may be treated as a minor burn. If the area burned is larger than this, or involves functional parts of the body—feet, face, eye, ears, groin or if it is located over major joints—more in-depth medical attention is needed. Take the person to Our Lady of Lourdes Emergency Department to have the burn evaluated. Failure to do so may result in permanent disfigurement or loss of function.

Third-Degree Burns
These are NOT minor burns and should be evaluated and treated by a health care provider. A third-degree burn is a very serious burn, no matter what the size or area of the body that may be involved. A third-degree burn involves all layers of the skin and can cause permanent tissue damage. The skin may appear to be charred, blackened, or white. The skin texture may be very dry or leathery. All third-degree burns should be evaluated by a health care provider immediately.  Wrap the burn in a clean dry sheet and proceed to the nearest Emergency Department.

It may take several days for a first-degree or mild second-degree burn to heal. During that time, it is important to monitor the affected area for infection, such as redness extending beyond the burned area, changes in the appearance of the wound or fever not reduced by acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Clear yellowish drainage is normal and should not cause alarm.  As your skin begins to heal, you may also notice that it will itch, which can be very uncomfortable at times. This is normal and will eventually decrease. Frequent application of vitamin E lotion can help keep the skin hydrated and minimize the itching process. If the itching is too severe, you can take an oral over-the-counter medication such as Diphenhydramine or Benadryl® may be helpful in easing the discomfort. Do not use Benadryl cream on the wound. Remember, always follow the directions on the label. The wound should be kept clean with daily dressing changes. If you have any concern or questions, call the Burn Center. Once the burn has healed, limit the exposure of the burn skin to direct sunlight. Always wear sun protection.

Following the above guidelines should promote healing to most minor burns.

It is important to note that the consumer should always seek the advice of a healthcare provider if there is any question regarding the healing process of a minor burn. The American Burn Association, the Burn Prevention Committee, and Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center are not responsible or liable for any untoward complications suffered by any individual following these suggested guidelines. This material is for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, which you should seek from your physician. The ABA does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.