Basic First Aid for Burns

Knowing first aid for burns requires knowing the cause of the injury and the severity of the burn according to its degree. Burns to the skin can come from a number of sources, including fire, heat, chemicals, electricity, radiation and sunlight. Burns are classified by severity in "degrees," a measurement of the damage caused. There are three degree classifications of burns: first, second and third degree. Most first-degree burns can be treated at home, while second- and third-degree burns require treatment by a doctor.

First-Degree Burns
Look for signs of skin peeling and redness. There may be a little swelling associated with this type of burn, which generally affects only the top layer of skin. If a first-degree burn is larger than three inches in diameter, or if it is on the face, feet or genital area, immediately see a doctor.

Otherwise, cool water (not icy or freezing cold) should be applied to the burn to cool the skin immediately. An ointment containing an antibiotic may be applied. If the skin is broken or peeling, wrap the area lightly with a dry gauze bandage. Pain can be handled by an over-the-counter pain medication, but remember not to give aspirin to children under the age of 16. The burn should heal inthree to six days.

Second-Degree Burns
Blisters are the main difference between second-degree and first-degree burns. You'll also see signs of swelling, splotches on the skin, redness and pain.

Treat the burn with cool water for at least 15 minutes or until the skin is cool to the touch. Do not use ice, butter, oil or ice water. A small second-degree burn can be treated at home, but a larger one should be looked at by a doctor, as there is a higher risk of infection with these burns.

For treatment at home, apply an antibiotic cream or ointment and cover the area lightly with a gauze dressing. Apply a clean dressing daily and check for signs of infection, including swelling, severe pain or excessive discharge. See a doctor if there are any signs of infection. The burn may itch as it heals. Healing takes two to three weeks.

Third-Degree Burns
Nerve damage from these burns, which penetrate multiple layers of skin, make this severe burn nearly painless. The skin will look charred or white. Immediate medical attention is essential. Do not try to remove clothing, soak the burn or apply anything at all. You can cover the burn with a clean cloth or gauze while waiting for treatment. Recovery can take several months.

Chemical and Electrical Burns
Electrical shocks and chemical burns are reasons for immediate medical attention. Electrical shocks can cause internal injuries, so any shock that results in a burn warrants a trip to the emergency room.

For chemical burns, remove any clothing contaminated with the chemical. Soak the area in water to dilute the chemical, making sure to keep any runoff away from parts of the body that haven't been burned. Chemical burns may be accompanied by toxins entering the blood or respiratory system, so an immediate examination by a doctor is necessary.

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