First aid: Burns
To distinguish a minor burn from a serious burn, the first step is to determine the extent of damage to body tissues. The three burn classifications of first-degree burn, second-degree burn and third-degree burn will help you determine emergency care.
Treat a first-degree burn as a minor burn unless it involves substantial portions of the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or a major joint, which requires emergency medical attention.
If the second-degree burn is no larger than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, treat it as a minor burn. If the burned area is larger or if the burn is on the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or over a major joint, treat it as a major burn and get medical help immediately.
For minor burns, including first-degree burns and second-degree burns limited to an area no larger than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, take the following action:
Minor burns usually heal without further treatment. They may heal with pigment changes, meaning the healed area may be a different color from the surrounding skin. Watch for signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, fever, swelling or oozing. If infection develops, seek medical help. Avoid re-injuring or tanning if the burns are less than a year old — doing so may cause more extensive pigmentation changes. Use sunscreen on the area for at least a year.
For major burns, call 911 or emergency medical help. Until an emergency unit arrives, follow these steps:
Get a tetanus shot. Burns are susceptible to tetanus. Doctors recommend you get a tetanus shot every 10 years. If your last shot was more than five years ago, your doctor may recommend a tetanus shot booster.
Last Updated: 2012-02-01
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