Burns are classified as to how far they
burn into the skin.
- First-degree burns affect just the outer
layer of the skin – the skin is usually red, with swelling and pain sometimes
- Second-degree burns are when the first
layer of skin has been burned though and the second layer is also burned. The
skin may be red or have a ‘splotchy’ appearance and be blistered. There may be
severe pain and swelling.
- Third degree burns destroy all layers of
the skin and there may be no pain at all, if all the nerve endings have been
destroyed. Burnt areas may appear charred black or dry and white. Immediate
hospital treatment is required.
What to do
For minor burns (first-degree and second-degree
burns less than 2-3 inches in diameter):
- Remove any jewellery or clothing in the
- Cool the burn by holding under cold,
running water for at least 10 minutes, or until pain subsides. This prevents
the burn from spreading to surrounding areas and helps to ease the pain.
- If you cannot hold the burn under running water,
immerse the burn in cold water or cool it with cold compresses (e.g., a wet
towel). Do not put ice on a burn.
- Cover the burn with a clean, gauze bandage.
The dressing should be smooth and not fluffy, as materials like cotton wool can
cause friction or stick to the exposed skin. The bandage will prevent infection
and protect blistered skin.
- Take a painkiller if necessary.
- As the burn heals, watch for signs of
infection, such as increased pain, redness, fever, swelling or oozing. Seek
medical help if an infection does develop. Do not break blisters – blisters protect
the raw skin underneath from infection.
For major burns (third-degree and extensive
- If a person is on fire, remember to STOP,
DROP and ROLL: tell the person to stop moving/running, drop to the floor, then
wrap the person in thick, non-synthetic material (e.g., rug, blanket, or wool
or cotton coat) and roll him or her on the ground to stop the flames.
Dial 999 (or 112) for an ambulance. Until
the ambulance arrives:
- Check for signs of breathing and circulation
and carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary.
- Remove jewellery and clothing from the
affected area, UNLESS it is stuck to the skin.
- Cool the burn by covering the area with a
cool, moist sterile bandage, cloth or towel. Do not immerse severe, large burns
in cold water, as this could cause shock.
- Take steps to prevent shock.
- If chemical is a powder, first brush the
powder off the skin.
- Hold the affected areas under cool, running
water for 15 minutes or more to wash off the chemical.
- Remove any clothing or jewellery that may
still be contaminated with the chemical.
- Wrap the affected area with a dry, sterile
Most chemical burns will heal without
further medical assistance. However, if the victim has signs of shock, the burn
is deep or extensive, or if it occurs on the eye, hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks
or over a major joint, seek medical assistance.
If an adult or child has been subjected to
an electrical burn, the only evidence may be a blackened area of skin since the
electrical contact will have closed up the skin's blood vessels at the point of
contact. Don't be fooled by this, however, as below the surface of the skin
there may be a much larger area of burned tissue which may be potentially
ALL electrical burns should be seen by a
doctor as soon as possible.
Shock can develop following a major injury.
It results in an inadequate supply of oxygen to the tissues of the body. It is
therefore important to be on the look-out for symptoms of shock in any person
who has undergone a major injury.
- Cool and clammy skin – can appear pale
- Weak and rapid pulse
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Dizziness or confusion
- May lose consciousness
What to do
- Lay the person down on their back, with
their legs raised higher then the head.
- Keep the person warm and comfortable
- Do not give anything to eat or drink
- Check for signs of breathing and begin CPR
- Seek medical help