First Aid Tips: Burns

Based on a module by Fred Mednick from the Connexions website’s Health Education Course

Introduction by Dr. Don Rose, Writer, Life ALife Alert


Continuing our ongoing series on First Aid Tips, this article provides a useful overview of what to do if you or someone with you suffers burns on the body.  --Don Rose


GeneraGeneral Information

Let’s begin our discussion by presenting two general rules for dealing with burns.

  1. Never put butter or greasy ointments on a burn. They seal heat into the wound and may cause infection.
  2. Always seek medical attention, especially if:
    • Burn covers more than one body part
    • Burn is located on any sensitive area of the body (hands, face, feet, etc.)
    • Burn is third degree
    • Burn is caused by chemicals.

First DegreeFirst Degree Burns

First degree burns (the mildest of the three degrees of burns) damage the outer layer of skin.


  1. redness
  2. mild pain
  3. swelling


  1. Immediately submerge the affected part in cold water.
  2. Hold it under cold running water, or place cold, wet cloths on it until the pain decreases.
  3. Cover with a clean, dry gauze dressing for protection.

Second Degree Burns

Second degree burns go through to the second layer of skin.


  1. blisters
  2. rough, red skin
  3. swelling
  4. extreme pain


  1. Immerse in cold water or have cold, wet cloths applied to it immediately.
  2. Gently blot area dry. Do not rub. Rubbing may break the blister, opening it to infection.
  3. Cover wound with dry, sterile bandage.
  4. If burn is located on arm or leg, keep limb elevated as much as possible.

Second degreSecond degree burns should heal within a few weeks.

Third Degree Burns

Third degree burns are less painful than second degree burns because the nerve cells in the affected tissue are actually destroyed, but the damage is greater. The burn goes through to the third layer of skin.


  1. whitish or charred appearance


  1. Do not remove any clothing near or at the site of the burn.
  2. Do not apply cold water or medication to the burn.
  3. Place clean, dry cloths (i.e. strips of a clean sheet) over the damaged area.
  4. If burns are on arms or legs, keep the limbs elevated above the level of the heart.
  5. If victim has burns on the face, check frequently to make sure he/she is not having difficulty breathing.
  6. Get victim to a hospital at once.

Chemical Burns

  1. Remove clothing on or near the burn area. Never pull clothing over the head with a chemical burn. You may need to cut the clothing.
  2. Wash the area thoroughly with low pressure water for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Apply a clean dressing to the area.
  4. Get medical attention as soon as possible.

Final Thoughts

If you suffeIf you suffer one or more burns on your body, are by yourself, and are experiencing extreme pain or unusual appearance in the burned area, call 911. If you are not near a phone, cannot get to a phone or cannot punch in the numbers, you can still get immediate help if you are a member of Life Alert; simply press your pendant to get in touch with live dispatchers within seconds, 24/7. They can send help to you, which will arrive in a matter of minutes. Life Alert members who are not at home can also use a special one-button 911 cellphone (an optional Life Alert feature). If you don’t currently have Life Alert, see below for links to information on this lifesaving service.

The article above is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. The information provided is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to review the original article, and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.

Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on computers, the Internet, AI, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.

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