We've all probably burned our skin at one point in our lives. Some more serious than others. When burns are more severe, medical attention is required. Until help arrives, it is important to know how to provide first aid for burns. Whether it's from staying out at the beach too long or burning our hand on the stove, burns are a painful and sometimes dangerous affliction of the skin.
Before providing first aid for burns, however, it's important to know all you can about the nature of burns. Burns range from minor to severe, have many symptoms and are caused by many different things. Let's take a quick crash course in everything you need to know about burns.
Everything You Need to Know about Burns
Burns are defined as "damage to the skin caused by extreme heat," but there is much more to it than that. Burns are caused by many different things and circumstances. The symptoms of burns are numerous, and severities of burns range from very minor to life-threatening. It's important to know the distinctions of each before providing first aid for burns.
What Causes Burns?
Thermal burns are the most common type of burn. They result from flames, hot metals, steam or scalding liquids come into contact with the skin due to many different circumstances. These circumstances include house fires, vehicle accidents, electrical malfunctions, and kitchen mishaps. Dry heat (fire), wet heat (steam or scalding liquids), the sun, chemicals, and heated objects can all cause burns.
Symptoms of Burns
The symptoms of burns vary due to the cause of the burn. Symptoms include the following:
First-degree burns are considered minor to other more severe types of burns. The result in pain and reddening of the outer layer of skin, known as the epidermis. First-degree burns are usually treated with skin care products such as aloe vera or antibiotic ointment. Over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol is another common treatment for first-degree burns.
Second-degree burns, or partial thickness burns, affect the epidermis as well as the lower layer of skin, known as the dermis. They cause pain, swelling, blisters, and redness. Second-degree burns are usually treated with antibiotic ointments and other creams prescribed by a doctor.
Third-degree burns, or full thickness burns, are the most severe types of burns and pierce all layers of skin. Third-degree burns result in white or blackened, charred skin that may become numb. Treatment of third-degree burns may require the painful process of skin-grafting or the use of synthetic skin. Full thickness burns that cover large portions of the body may require more intensive treatments such as intravenous antibiotics to prevent the growth of infection.
How to Manage the Pain
Burn pain is one of the most prolonged and intense types of pains. Burn pain is hard to control due to a number of factors. These factors include its unique characteristics, its various components, and its ever-changing patterns. Treating the burns may cause just as much pain as the burns themselves as the dressings must be changed, and the wounds cleaned. Many studies have shown that burns require an aggressive treatment of pain.
How to Provide First Aid for Burns
Before providing first aid for burns, it's important to determine the severity of the burn. The more severe they are, the more complex first aid for burns becomes. Let's break down by severity how to provide first aid for burns.
First Aid for All Burns
The first step in first aid for all burns is to stop the burning immediately:
Is It a Minor Burn or a Major Burn?
Before providing first aid for burns, it's imperative to determine whether the burn is minor or major in nature. Major burns can be life-threatening and you need to call 911 immediately if the burn(s) portray the following symptoms:
Minor burns do not require emergency care and will show the following signs:
First Aid for First-Degree Burns
The first step in treating first-degree burns (burns that affect the top layer of skin) is to cool the burn. Hold the burned skin under cool (not cold) water or immerse the burned area in cool water until the pain begins to subside. If a source of running water is unavailable, use a compress instead. Next, you want to protect the burn. You want to cover the burn with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or a clean cloth. It is important to not apply butter or ointments.
These substances can cause an infection. To treat the pain, you can give the burned individual over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve).
You only need to seek medical attention for first-degree burns if the following scenarios occur:
On a followup visit to the doctor, the doctor will examine the burn. Based on his diagnosis, an antibiotic cream or pain medications may be prescribed.
First Aid for Second-Degree Burns
For second-degree burns, the first step is to cool the burn. Immerse the burn in cool water for 10 to 15 minutes. If running water is unavailable, use a compress. Do not apply ice. Ice can lower body temperature. It can also cause further damage and pain. Do not break the blisters or apply any ointments, This can lead to an infection. The next step is to protect the burn by covering the burned area loosely with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage. Secure the bandage with gauze or tape.
In some instances, second-degree burns can lead to shock. To prevent shock:
A second-degree burn will require a doctor visit. The doctor will test the severity of the burn, prescribe pain medications and antibiotics. If necessary the doctor will administer a tetanus shot.
First Aid for Third-Degree Burns
Third-degree burns are very severe burns that penetrate all layers of skin. This is a very serious situation, so the first step in treating third-degree burns is to call 911. Until emergency services arrive, you need to immediately protect the burned area. Cover the area loosely with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage. If the area is large, cover the burned area with a sheet that will not leave lint in the wound. Make sure to separate burned toes and fingers with dry, sterile dressings.
Do not soak third-degree burns in water. Do not apply any ointments as this could lead to infection.
Fairly often in cases of third-degree burns, the individual will go into shock. To prevent shock:
When the burned individual arrives at the hospital, a doctor will give oxygen and fluid, if needed, to treat the burn.
Burns can vary from very minor to very severe. Providing first aids for burns requires recognition of the severity of the burn. To determine the severity of the burn, it is important to know the different symptoms of burns. First-degree burns tend to be more of an annoyance more than a concern.
Second and third-degree burns, on the other hand, can be very serious and require doctor supervision. Third-degree burns are very serious and require you to call 911 immediately. Remember, before help arrives it is up to you to provide first aid for burns. Those first steps can be key to lessening the severity of the overall situation.