A burn is a tissue injury that results from contact with hot or scalding materials like the sun, radiation, electricity, chemicals, or flames. Burns are typically painful injuries, and serious burns are potentially life-threatening. It’s important to be aware of first aid for burn injuries, know how to tell the difference between major and minor burns, and be able to properly respond to these injuries.
Is it a Major or Minor Burn?
The characteristics of a minor burn include:
- Redness that looks similar to a rash or sunburn
- An injury no more than 3 inches in diameter
The characteristics of a major burn include:
- Dry and leathery skin
- Penetration of the top layer of skin
- Charred or white, black, or brown patches of skin
- An injury larger than 3 inches in diameter or covering a major/vital area of the body
These types of burns are dangerous and require immediate emergency care. Call 911 as soon as possible.
Treating Major Burns
While waiting for emergency services, there are a few things you can do to help stabilize the burn victim:
- Make sure the burned person is out of reach of further harm.
- Check the victim’s breathing, and use rescue breathing techniques if necessary.
- Remove restrictive clothing and accessories that might become harmful when the burn swells.
- Cover the burn with a clean cloth or a cool, moist bandage.
- Elevate the burn above heart level.
- Never immerse a large burn in cold water.
Treating Minor Burns
Minor burns can be treated immediately by doing the following:
- Cool off the burn with cool (but not cold) running water or a wet compress.
- Don’t break blisters, but if they break accidentally, wash the area with soap and apply antibiotic cream.
- Remove rings or other tight clothing and accessories from the burned area, which will likely swell.
- Apply aloe vera once the area is cooled to prevent dryness and irritation.
- Cover the burn with sterile gauze and wrap it loosely.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Home Remedies for Burns
- Use Cool Water: The first treatment for a burn should be cool water. This is to cool off the damaged tissue. The water shouldn’t be too cold, just cooler than room temperature. Run the burn under the water for at least 20 minutes before washing it with soap.
- Apply a Cool Compress: A compress should be made from a wet bandage or clean cloth. It’s used to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
- Use an Antibiotic: It’s important to apply antibiotic cream to a burn to prevent potential infection. Over-the-counter options include Bacitracin and Neosporin.
- Apply Aloe Vera to the Skin: Aloe vera has properties known for healing burns. It will also help reduce skin dryness and irritation. Once the burn is cool, apply aloe vera to dry skin. It can be squeezed from the leaves of an aloe vera plant or bought at a store.
- Consider Using Honey: If you don’t have aloe vera on hand, honey is a good alternative. It’s soothing and naturally anti-fungal and antibacterial.
- Avoid Sun Exposure: Make sure that burns are covered when you’re in the sun. They’re very sensitive to sunlight and will become painful if they remain uncovered.
- Don’t Pop Blisters: Blisters are a natural guard against infection. When they’re broken open, then the wound is left vulnerable. If a blister is accidentally popped, the wound area should be immediately cleaned with soap and water and then treated with antibiotic cream.
- Use Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Many over-the-counter pain relievers are effective at reducing pain and irritation from burns, including Advil, Tylenol, and Aleve.
Fire Safety Tips
One of the best ways to avoid dangerous burns is to be aware of fire safety and learn what to do in a fire emergency.
- Red Cross Home Fire Safety: The Red Cross lists their top fire safety tips here.
- Keep Your Family Safe From Fire: Create a fire safety plan with your family and learn how to minimize your risk.
- Fire Prevention and Public Education: FEMA provides materials for teaching about fire safety and prevention on this page.
- Fire Safety for Kids: Children should learn how to respond to a fire safely.
- Key Fire Safety Tips: The National Fire Prevention Association lists the most important fire prevention actions.
- Prevent Home Fires: Home fires can cause dangerous burns. Learn how to make your home more safe and what to do in the event of a home fire.