A burn is an injury that’s caused by contact with fire and other hot objects. It usually destroys skin tissue; but more severe cases can damage flesh and bone, as well. Direct exposure to caustic chemicals, electricity and radiation can also inflict burns of different types.

If you, a member of your family or a workplace colleague is suffering from a burn, assess the situation carefully and apply first aid whenever applicable. Burns are very painful and if left untreated, they could lead to dangerous health complications. In most cases, it’s best to get the burn victim checked in an emergency room to make sure proper care is applied.

There are three main classifications of burns, according to severity. These are:

First Degree Burns –burns that only damage the top layer of the skin (epidermis) and do not penetrate all the way through. These are considered minor injuries unless large areas of the victim’s skin is affected.

Second Degree Burns –burns that damage the epidermis as well as the dermis; your skin’s inner layer. Second degree burns are often more painful than first degree ones. They usually form discolored patches on human skin and they’re likely to swell and blister. Second degree burns also have a higher risk of infection, so make sure proper emergency medical care is applied. Second degree burns are treated as major injuries unless they’re less than three inches in size and are not on the face, hands, feet and joints. A small second degree burn may be classified as a major injury if it prevents a person from performing his or her regular activities.

Third Degree Burns – Third degree burns are the most dangerous among the three classifications. These burns happen when the damage extends from the skin to the flesh and even to the bone. Entire areas of skin are usually damaged permanently, leaving the skin charred or whitened depending on how the burn happened. Since third degree burns run deep, victims must be given medical attention immediately to prevent infections and complications.

What to Do in Case of Minor Burns

If you or someone near you suffers from a minor burn, follow these simple first aid measures:

  • Let the burn cool down. Run cool water on it for 10-15 minutes. This helps reduce pain and calm the victim down.
  • Dress the burn in sterile gauze to protect the injured area from further damage and infection. This also keeps moving air off the burn, which can be very discomforting for burn victims.
  • Taking pain relievers can help a lot. Just make sure to give the right doses if the burn victim happens to be a child.
  • If signs of infection such as swelling, oozing and increased pain show up, consult a doctor immediately.
  • If blisters appear, don’t rupture them. This can cause further skin damage and increase the chances of infections setting in.

Reminder: Under any circumstances, do not apply ice, butter or egg whites to the burn. Doing so can do more harm than good with higher risks of infection on the burn.

What to Do in Case of Major Burns

As much as possible, allow EMTs and doctors to handle major burn cases. If you have a family member or a co-worker who has just suffered from major burns, keep the following emergency measures in mind:

  • Make sure the person no longer has any burning or smoking clothes left on the body. Other clothing that remains on should not be removed as this can further damage the skin.
  • Do not put ice or run cold water on the burns. This might cause body temperatures to drop and aggravate the situation.
  • If the victim is motionless and is not breathing, apply CPR immediately.
  • If possible, elevate burnt body parts above heart level.