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Department of Public Safety

Burn Emergencies

Burn injuries are one of the most painful injuries anyone can have. When a burn occurs to the skin, nerves are damaged causing intense feelings of pain. Every year millions of people are burned in many different ways and die as a result of burn injuries. Burn injuries are the third leading cause of unintentional deaths in the United States.

Burns are classified in two ways: Method and Degree of burn.

Methods are:

  • Thermal – Including flame, radiation, or excessive heat from fire, steam, and liquids and hot objects.
  • Chemical – including various acids, bases, and caustics.
  • Electrical – including electrical current and lightning.
  • Radiation – includes nuclear sources, and ultraviolet light, such as sunlight.

Never assume the source of a burn, gather information and be sure.

Degrees are:

  • First degree burns are superficial and only involve the outer skin. The skin will be reddened and extremely painful, the skin area may peel, and there may be some temporary discoloration.
  • Second degree burns occur when the second layer (the dermal layer) of skin is damaged but does not pass through to underlying tissue. The skin will appear moist and there will be intense pain.  There will be reddening, blisters, and molten appearance to skin. Second degree burns are considered to be minor if it involves less than 15% of the body in adults and 10% in children.
  • Third degree burns involve all layers of the skin. These burns are usually charred black and include areas that are dry and white.  This is the most serious type burn and can be very painful. Some patients experience little or no pain because nerve endings have been destroyed.

Treatment of burns:

  • Cool a burn with water. Do what you must to get cool water on the burn as soon as possible. Run cool water from faucet or apply cloths soaked with cool water to the burn. Never apply ointment, grease or butter to the burned area. This can cause the burned area to retain heat and not allow the burn to cool. When the burn cools it may be appropriate to apply an antibiotic cream or ointment to help prevent infection.
  • Third degree burns and large area burns should be cooled immediately. Do what you must to get cool water on burn as soon as possible. Run cool water from faucet or apply cloths soaked with cool water to the burn. Call 911 and seek medical attention as soon as possible.