Treating First-degree Burns

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated September 5, 2008)

The severity of a burn is determined by calculating what percentage of the total body surface area (BSA) is involved. To determine the percentage of BSA, doctors apply what they call the "rule of nines" in victims older than nine years. For example, burns covering the front or back of the torso are ranked as 18% of the BSA, while burns involving an arm and hand are graded as 9%. First degree burns are classified as minor, moderate, or critical, as follows:

  • Minor burns cover less than 15% of the body.
  • Moderate burns cover 15 to 25% of the body.
  • Critical burns cover more than 25% of the body.

While you can treat minor burns at home, common sense dictates that if a minor burn involves a large area of your body, you should seek immediate medical treatment. There are several guidelines to follow when treating minor burns at home:

  1. Remove jewelry and clothing from the burn site. If clothing sticks to the burn, it is indicative of a more serious burn. Do not peel away the clothing and, instead, take the victim to an emergency room.
  2. Hold the burned area under cold, running water to stop the burning process. Never use ice on a burn.
  3. Gently wash away any debris with antiseptic cleanser, then apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment. Never apply heavy lotions or creams, as those products will hold in heat, making the burn worse.
  4. Cover the burn with sterile gauze, ensuring that you don't apply an adhesive on the burn site. Make sure the bandage is loose so that air can get to the burn.
  5. To relieve pain and swelling, give the victim ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Never give children aspirin as there is a risk of contracting Reye's syndrome.
  6. If chemicals are the cause of the burn, use large amounts of water to flush them away from the skin, and then seek immediate medical attention if the burns involve the eyes or mouth. Oftentimes, chemicals will continue to burn the skin long after you've flushed them away, especially in the case of dry chemicals.
No matter the severity of first-degree burns, they usually heal very quickly, with no scarring. See a doctor if the pain and redness do not diminish within a few days, or if swelling increases and fever develops, as those are all signs of infection. Remember that this are tips for treating minor first-degree burns. Moderate and critical first-degree burns should always be treated by a medical professional.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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