In the United States, over one million burn injuries need medical attention every year. A burn consists of tissue damage that results from contact with flames, electricity, sun exposure, and other radiation, corrosive chemicals, or very hot water, the occurrence known as scalding. Treatment of a burn injury begins with the determination of whether the burn is minor or major.

Major Burns

A major burn has four primary characteristics. First, look for depth. A deep burn is a major burn. Burns that result in leathery, dry skin is also severe, as are burns that present a charred appearance. Finally, look for size and location. A burn that is three inches in diameter or larger is major; if it covers the face, feet, hands, groin, or buttocks, it is also considered significant.


Minor Burns

Minor burns may have surface redness, such as sunburns. They are smaller in diameter – less than 3 inches. The skin may blister, and there may be pain. Minor burns can be dealt with far more easily than major burns, and generally, do not require medical attention.


Treating Major Burns

The first step for a major burn is to seek help; this may be going to an emergency room or calling 911. There are a series of steps to take until help arrives. First, ensure that the burn victim is safe and away from the burn’s source. Remove restrictive items in the areas of the burn, which will likely swell. Using a clean, moistened cloth with water that is cool and clean, cover the burned area. Remove clothing from areas that are burned, but do not attempt to remove clothing if it sticks to the skin.


Treating Minor Burns

Start by cooling down the burn. Begin with running cool water over it, then apply compresses that are cool and wet while the pain is subsiding. Before swelling can begin, remove constricting items. If blisters form, avoid breaking them. Use lotion that is good for moisturizing, such as a formula with aloe vera, on the area after cooling the burn. Bandage the wound loosely with sterile gauze or plastic wrap to keep out germs. Finally, take a pain reliever that is over-the-counter if necessary.


**This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the emergency department, or call 911 immediately.