Essential First Aid: Treating Burns

Essential First Aid: Treating Burns

Jenny Brannan
Posted by Jenny Brannan

Date: Wednesday, 28 June 2017. -  
Blog, First Aid, Fire Safety

Burns are common injuries that can occur under various circumstances, in and out of the workplace. This particular type of injury causes damage to the skin following exposure to a strong heat source. 

Burns can be extremely painful and may cause:

•    Blisters

•    Red or peeling skin

•    Swelling

•    White or charred skin

In this post, we share some of the most typical causes of burns as well as how to treat them to reduce the chance of infection, ease pain and promote recovery.

Causes of Burns

Different environmental factors can cause various types of burns on the skin.

•    Flame Burns: these types of burns are caused by flames. Contact with the flame can directly damage or injury to the skin and the underlying tissues.

•    Contact Burns: these are burns caused by hot objects. These types of burns are confined to a particular part of the skin.

•    Electrical Burns: these are caused by currents of electricity. These burns are usually very deep and may cause severe damage to both the skin and the underlying tissues.

•    Chemical Burns: contact with flammable gases or even liquids can cause these types of burns. Inhaling hot gases could damage the airways making it difficult to breathe.

The amount of pain you feel isn’t always related to the seriousness of the burn you have experienced. Serious burns can sometimes be relatively painless, but it’s important that your burn is treated effectively to avoid further issues.


When treating a burn, treatment decisions are based on the need to relieve the pain, decrease swelling, prevent infection and endorse healing.

It is important to remember that for all burns, regardless of their severity, the cause of the burning needs to be stopped to halt the burn’s severity. Depending upon the degree of the burn will determine the treatment required to assist.

The treatments listed below are focused on treating thermal or fire burns.

First Degree Burns

These types of burns affect the top layer of the skin and can usually be treated as a minor injury/ burn.

Firstly, the burned skin needs to be placed or immersed under cool – not cold – water, for approximately 10 minutes until the pain subsides. If water isn’t available, use compresses.

The burn then needs to be protected; this can be done by covering it with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or cloth. It is important that no ointments or butter is applied as this can cause infection.

Over-the-counter pain reliever should be given to the casualty to help relieve the pain contracted by the burn. These can be medicines such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol.

If the pain worsens, signs of infection arise such as increased pain, redness, swelling, oozing or a fever is contracted or the pain lasts more than a few hours, it is important that you contact your GP and allow them to examine the burn.

Second Degree Burns

Second-degree burns affect the top two layers of the skin. Similarly, to first degree burns, the burn needs to be cooled down first.

With second degree burns, the burn needs to be immersed in cool water for 10 – 15 minutes and if water isn’t available, compresses should be used. You should not apply ice as this can reduce the casualty’s body temperature and can cause further damage. You should also, not break any blisters, apply butter or ointments as these can cause infection.

After the burn has been cooled, it needs to be protected. This should be done by covering the burn loosely with a non-stick, sterile bandage and secured in place with either adhesive gauze or tape.

Second-degree burns can potentially lead to shock, and unless the casualty has suffered a head, neck or leg injury or the burn would cause discomfort, the person should be laid down flat and their feet should be elevated about 12 inches above the floor.

If possible, the burn area should be elevated above the heart and the casualty should be covered with either a coat or blanket to avoid their temperature dropping.

If you’re concerned or believe you may have suffered from a second-degree burn, contacting your doctor and allowing them to examine the burn will determine the burn’s severity.

Third Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are the most serious of burns as these can extend through every layer of the skin and can even reach fat and muscle.

The emergency services should be called immediately and unlike the other two burn degrees, you should not attempt to soak the burn in water. The burn should immediately be covered loosely with a sterile non-stick bandage. If the burn covers a large area of skin, then a sheet or other materials that won’t cause lint to gather in the wound will suffice.

If any fingers or toes are burned they need to be separated and dressed with dry, sterile dressings.

Given the severity of third-degree burns, the casualty may be in shock and this needs to be prevented – if possible. Unless the casualty has a head, neck or leg injury, or it would cause them discomfort, they should be laid flat and their feet elevated about 12 inches off the floor. If possible, elevate the burn above the heart too.

You should also cover them with a blanket or coat to keep them warm. If they have suffered a facial burn, you should sit the casualty up. If they have suffered a burn to their airway do not place a pillow under the person’s head as this can close the airway. You should regularly check their pulse and breathing to monitor them for shock until the emergency services arrive at the scene.

Essential Knowledge

The severity of the burn will determine what treatment is required and what degree of burn you have suffered. For the majority, cooling the area down is a priority, but it is important to remember that third-degree burns require urgent medical attention from professionals.

Were you aware of how different burns affected the skin? Did you know how to treat each burn degree? Head on over to our Twitter feed, @imptraining and share your experience with burns and knowledge surrounding this topic with us.

© 2024 Imperative Training. All Rights Reserved.
Design by net*