Burn First Aid

Assessment and Treatment of Burns

Burns happen to millions of Americans every year. Are you ready to treat burns?

Burn Classifications

Young woman with sunburn tanlines, mid section
Sunburn is an example of radiation burn. Dougal Waters/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There are four classifications of burns: thermal, chemical, radiation and electrical. Chemical burns are injuries to skin that come from exposure to chemical substances. Electrical burns are self-explanatory. Thermal burns come from heat, which includes scalding hot liquids. Radiation burns come from anything that gives off radiation. The most common radiation burns come from the sun. Folks are often mistaken about the relationship between heat and sunburns. The sun doesn't need to be hotly bearing down on you, which is why you can get a sunburn on the ski slopes and even on a windy, overcast day. Sometimes, abrasions are called friction burns.

Burn Degrees

There are only three degrees of burns, and all three refer to how deep the burn goes through the skin. Burns can go all the way down to the muscle and even bone, but skin is all we care about for the purposes of treatment.

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Critical Burns

Some burns are so critical they need to go directly to the hospital, even though some critical burns don't look that bad.

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Burn Pictures

Second degree burn on hand
(c) Tim Ballantine

These pictures help illustrate the different burn degrees. Besides sunburns and thermal burns, there are also friction burns (road rash).

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Burn Treatment

The first step to treating a burn is to stop the burning process. Chemicals need to be cleaned off. Electricity needs to be turned off. Heat needs to be cooled down. Sunburn victims need to be covered up or go inside.

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