How to Treat a Burn: First Aid for Minor Burns

Burns are caused by overexposure to radiation, chemicals, electricity, or heat. Depending on the gravity of the burn, it may be life-threatening. However, for minor burns, these can be easily treated at home. So, how to treat a burn that affects only the epidermis?

how to treat a burn

Burns result from overexposure to chemicals, heat, or radiation. It causes damage to tissues that may be minor or life-threatening. Treatment of a burn depends on the gravity and location of the tissue damage. However, how to treat a burn that is minor? Learn this and more here.


What Are Burns?

As mentioned, burns result from tissue damage caused by heat, radiation, or chemicals. Burns vary in pain but generally cause blisters, swelling, or red skin. The symptoms of a burn vary on the severity of the skin damage.

1. 1st-Degree Burn

This burn is considered minor and affects the epidermis which is the outer layer of the skin. Pain and redness are noted.

2. 2nd-Degree Burn

Both the epidermis and the dermis, which is the second layer of the skin, is affected for a second-degree burn. The skin may either be white or red and splotchy in appearance. Moreover, swelling may manifest. Pain is characterized as severe, and there is a development of blisters. This type of burn can lead to scarring.

3. 3rd-Degree Burn

The layer of fat under the skin is affected in this type of burn. Third-degree burns destroy the skin; thus, making it appear leathery and black. This type of burn also destroys nerves which result in numbness.


Rule of Nines

Apart from the depth of burns, the surface area of burns is taken into consideration. A burn is measured in percentage of a total affected body area. This is called “rule of nines” and is a calculation of the surface area affected by burns. The percent of each body part is as follows.

  • Head: 9 percent
  • Front Chest: 9 percent
  • Front Abdomen: 9 percent
  • Back (Upper, Middle, and Lower) and Buttocks: 18 percent
  • Each Arm: 9 percent
  • Each Palm: 1 percent
  • Each Leg: 18 percent
  • Groin: 1 percent

This measurement is used for second and third-degree burns. For burns that affect 15 to 20 percent of the body, there is a significant loss of fluids which may result in shock. For burns that are higher than 50 percent, there is a high chance of death.


First Aid Treatment

Minor Burns

Minor burns usually do not require immediate medical attention. These are characterized by blisters, superficial redness, and slight pain. The area involved is less than 3 inches in diameter. As first aid treatment, the following steps should be followed.

  1. Move the individual away from the source of burns.
  2. Remove items such as clothing or rings from the area affected. Do this as delicately and quickly as possible before swelling occurs.
  3. If blisters are noted, then avoid breaking them. However, if the blister breaks, then clean the region with cold water.
  4. Cover the burnt area with a sterile bandage. A clean plastic bag may also be utilized. Wrap the bandage loosely to avoid additional pressure on the burned area. Bandaging the area reduces pain, protects the burnt skin, and keeps air away from the region.
  5. Take pain relievers if needed. Such pain relievers include acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, or ibuprofen.
  6. For individuals who experience minor burns in the face, let them sit up rather than lie down. Doing so will help decrease swelling.

Home remedies for minor burns include cool compress, aloe vera, and honey. Doctors also advise the use of antibiotics to prevent further infection of the damaged area.

Major Burns

Major burns, such as second and third-degree burns, require immediate medical attention. An individual should seek the aid of licensed healthcare professionals for the following instances.

  • Burns Bigger Than the Hand
  • Burns That Lead to Charred or White Skin
  • Burns on the Genitals, Legs, Feet, Arms, Hands, and Face That Lead to Blisters
  • Burns Caused by Electricity or Chemicals

Individuals who have also breathed in fumes or smokes from a burning area also need medical help. Symptoms that may manifest include the following.

  • Cough
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Facial Burns
  • Sore Throat



Major burns like second and third-degree burns can lead to complications such as shock, blood loss, and infection. In severe cases, it may likely lead to death. Another complication of burns is tetanus which is a bacterial infection that impacts the nervous system. Tetanus causes a disorder in muscle contractions.

Burns that are severe also lead to hypovolemia and hypothermia. Hypovolemia happens when there is an excess of blood loss from burns. On the other hand, hypothermia occurs when there is an excessive amount of body heat lost due to tissue damage.



In instances where emergency help has yet to arrive, here are the immediate treatment for second and third-degree burns.

  1. Move the injured person away from the area that caused the burn. For burns caused by electricity, make sure that the source of the electrical burn has been turned off before approaching the victim.
  2. If the person is not breathing and unconscious, then perform CPR if one is knowledgeable on it.
  3. Remove items such as clothing, belt, and jewelry that cause further pressure and restriction on the skin.
  4. Cover the area with a clean cloth, preferably moist and cool.
  5. Elevate the area affected by the burn. If possible, then raise the wounded area above the level of the heart.
  6. Monitor the individual for signs of shock. These signs include shallow breathing, a pale complexion, and fainting.



Burns usually affects young children. These methods may help to significantly reduce the chance of having severe accidents at home, such as burns.

  • Keep children away from the kitchen, especially if the stove or oven is on.
  • Test the bath water before putting the child in the bath.
  • Keep lighters, lit candles, and matches out of reach and out of sight from children.
  • Keep hot fluids away from children.
  • Check electrical cords and discard them if the wires are exposed.
  • Install covers in electrical outlets.
  • Replace smoke detectors in a home, apartment, or office every ten years.
  • Regularly test smoke detectors monthly.
  • Place fire extinguishers in the entrance of a home or office.
  • When working with chemicals, wear gloves and goggles.
  • Wear appropriate clothing when exposed to the sun. Also, use sunscreen.

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