First Aid Treatment for Burns

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Burns may be caused by heat, radiation, chemicals, sunlight or electricity, and the damage done by these burns is classified into three categories. First-, second- and third-degree burns all require different approaches for first aid, so identifying the severity of a burn and knowing how to treat it accordingly is an important step in first aid.

First-Degree Burns

  • First-degree burns are red and painful and may swell a small amount, according to FamilyDoctor.org. They also turn white when pressure is applied. First degree burns will often flake and peel after one or two days.

    To treat a first-degree burn, first soak it in cold water and use a topical treatment such as aloe vera or an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to ease the discomfort associated with minor burns.

    If the burn is larger than 3 inches wide or is on your face, feet or genitals, you may require medical attention, according to FamilyDoctor.org. These burns will typically heal in less than a week.

Second-Degree Burns

  • Increased swelling, splotchy red skin and more severe pain accompanied by blisters often indicates a second-degree burn. To treat this kind of burn, soak it in cool water for 15 minutes. Assuming the affected area is small, place a cool, damp washcloth on the burn to cool the temperature, and treat it with an antibiotic ointment or cream prescribed by a doctor. Cover the burn with a dry, nonstick covering.

    Change the covering each day, being sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water first. Gently wash the burn as well. See a doctor if you notice signs of infection. This type of burn may take up to three weeks to heal completely, according to FamilyDoctor.org.

    Large second-degree burns require immediate medical attention.

Third-Degree Burns

  • Third-degree burns cause damage to all layers of the skin and may appear charred or white. The burn may be painless because of extensive nerve damage to the skin.

    Burns this severe require a trip to the hospital immediately. Do not soak the burn or attempt to remove clothing that has stuck to the skin. It is OK to apply a clean bandage to the area until you reach the hospital.

Electrical or Chemical Burns

  • Electrical burns may have caused damage to the body in areas besides the surface of the skin. Because of this, it is necessary to seek medical assistance at once.

    Chemical burns should be washed immediately with lots of water. Take off any clothing that may have the chemical on it, and do not apply any topical medication, as it could react with the chemical that burned you. If you are not sure if you need additional help, call your local poison control center or go directly to the doctor.

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