Emergency Burn Care

What is Considered an Emergency Burn?

Burns happen when heat or a corrosive substance contacts the skin. Emergency burns require immediate medical attention. There are 3 types of burns ranging in degrees of severity. The 3 types of burns include:

  • First degree burn. These are minor burns that only damage the top layer of skin.
  • Second degree burn. These burns damage the top and underlying layer of skin.
  • Third degree burn. This is a major burn and the most severe type that damages all underlying layers of skin, fat, muscle, and bone.

Some burns require medical attention, while others do not. There is a difference between major and minor burns, and major burns require immediate emergency medical care. For 2nd degree burns and some 1st degree burns, being able to get same day care from your doctor or going to an urgent care is the best course of action. If the 1st or 2nd degree burn is larger than two to three inches or it happened on the face, scalp, hands or feet, genitals, or on a major joint, emergency care is recommended.


There is a range of symptoms for major burns that require immediate medical attention. If you have any of the following symptoms following a burn, please seek medical help immediately:

  • The skin appears leathery or waxy, white or charred black, little to no pain due to nerve damage
  • The burn is deep
  • The burn is larger than two to three inches in diameter
  • Fluid loss and tissue loss is excessive
  • The burn occurs on the face, scalp, hands or feet, genitals, buttocks, or a major joint
  • May lead to shock and even death

If you are questioning the degree of the burn, it is recommended to seek medical care.


Major burns require immediate emergency treatment. While a patient is waiting for medical help, there are several treatment methods that can be implemented. Treatment methods include:

  • Protect the burn victim from further harm by moving them out of contact from the source of the burn, if it can be done in a safe manner
  • If it is an electrical burn, turn off the power source before touching or moving the burn victim
  • Check to see if the burn victim is still breathing, and if necessary, begin CPR if you are trained
  •  Remove restrictive items from the body, such as certain jewelry or a belt, as there can be severe swelling with major burns
  • Cover over the burn using a cool clean dampened cloth
  • Do not immerse large major burn areas into water, as this may cause hypothermia
  • If possible, elevate the burned area by raising it above the heart
  • Observe for signs of shock, which include fainting, pale complexion, shallow breathing

In all major burn instances, seek immediate emergency medical care.

In minor burns, immediate emergency care may not be needed. It is important to be able to differentiate between minor and major burns. A person who has experienced a minor burn may try some of the following treatment methods:

  • Cool the burned area by holding the burn under cool water, or applying a cold compress to the affected area
  • Remove any restrictive items near the affected area, such as rings, necklaces, or belts
  • Do not break any blisters that have formed, as it protects the skin from infection. If the blister breaks, you can wash with cool water (soap optional). You can apply an antibiotic cream but discontinue use if a rash appears.
  • Once the burn has fully cooled, you may apply a lotion (aloe vera or moisturizing) to help with dryness and pain
  • Bandage the burn loosely with sterile gauze to help keep air from the wound, reducing pain and protecting blisters
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication (ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen)

If there are any experienced complications from the burn site, consult with a medical professional.


Being proactive is important when it comes to prevention of minor and major burns. There are many ways you can protect yourself from getting burns. Some preventative measures include:

  • Wearing protective clothes and eyewear when working in a high-risk environment
  • Reading and following all directions on chemicals used for cleaning, gardening, or in an industrial setting
  • Practice safety measures when cooking with oil and grease
  • Understand the risk and take proper precaution when working with equipment that uses propane or gas
  • Stay a far distance away from fireworks when not being done by a professional
  • Apply and reapply sunscreen with sustained sun exposure

For additional treatment information or options, please contact Baptist Health.

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