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  Treating a burn begins with stopping the burning process.  Cool the burned area with cool running water for several minutes. 

If an ambulance is coming, continue running water over the burned area until the ambulance arrives.

  Look for blistering, sloughing, or charred (blackened) skin.

Blistering or sloughing (skin coming off) means the top layer of skin is completely damaged and complications are likely.  Charring indicates even deeper damage to all three layers of skin.

  Mild burns with reddened skin and no blisters may be treated with a topical burn ointment or spray to reduce pain.

Cool water (not cold or warm) may also help with pain.


  Over the counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used for the pain of a mild burn (typically redness only).  If stronger pain relief is needed, contact a physician or go to the emergency department.

Types of Burns

Burns are classified as first, second or third degree burns depending on the amount and depth of tissue damage. 

First-Degree Burn

A first-degree burn causes damage to the epidermis, causing pain, redness and some swelling.  Typically, this type of burn will heal without scarring. 

Second-Degree Burn

A second-degree burn causes damage to the epidermis and the dermis, and this burn usually results in pain, redness and blistering. 

Third-Degree Burn

Third degree burns are the most severe because the damage extends past the upper layers of skin to the sensitive subcutaneous tissue, destroying nerves, blood vessels, and other dermal components. 

Extensive third degree burns can be fatal because the threat of infection is extremely high.  In fact, bacterial infection is the leading cause of death in burn victims.


If the skin is unbroken, run cool water over the area of the burn or soak it in a cool water bath (not ice water).  Keep the area submerged for at least 5 minutes.  A clean, cold, wet towel will also help reduce pain.

Calm and reassure the person.

After flushing or soaking, cover the burn with a dry, sterile bandage or clean dressing.

Protect the burn from pressure and friction.

Over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve pain and swelling.  Do NOT give children under 12 aspirin.  Once the skin has cooled, moisturizing lotion also can help.

Minor burns will usually heal without further treatment.  However, if a second-degree burn covers an area more than 2 to 3 inches in diameter, or if it is located on the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint, treat the burn as a major burn.

Make sure the person is up to date on tetanus immunization.


If someone is on fire, tell the person to stop, drop, and roll.  Wrap the person in thick material to smother the flames (a wool or cotton coat, rug, or blanket).  Douse the person with water.

Call an ambulance.

Make sure that the person is no longer in contact with smouldering materials.  However, do NOT remove burned clothing that is stuck to the skin.

Make sure the person is breathing.  If breathing has stopped, or if the person's airways are blocked, open the airways.  If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.

Cover the burn area with a dry sterile bandage (if available) or clean cloth.  A sheet will do if the burned area is large.  Do NOT apply any ointments.  Avoid breaking burn blisters.

If fingers or toes have been burned, separate them with dry, sterile, non-adhesive dressings.

Elevate the body part that is burned above the level of the heart.  Protect the burn area from pressure and friction.

Take steps to prevent shock.  Lay the person flat, elevate the feet about 12 inches, and cover the person with a coat or blanket.  However, do NOT place the person in this shock position if a head, neck, back, or leg injury is suspected or if it makes the person uncomfortable.

Continue to monitor the person's vital signs until medical help arrives.  This means pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure.


  • Do NOT apply ointment, butter, ice, medications, cream, oil spray, or any household remedy to a severe burn.
  • Do NOT breathe, blow, or cough on the burn.
  • Do NOT disturb blistered or dead skin.
  • Do NOT remove clothing that is stuck to the skin.
  • Do NOT give the person anything by mouth, if there is a severe burn.
  • Do NOT immerse a severe burn in cold water.  This can cause shock.
  • Do NOT place a pillow under the person's head if there is an airways burn.  This can close the airways.

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