How to Treat Major Burns: First Aid Treatment

More than a million Americans each year require medical attention due to burn injuries. Major burn injuries can be life-threatening and life-changing because of the risk of permanent scarring. You can really make a difference to a burn injury victim by providing early effective first aid treatment for the burn and by calling for EMS early.

Why is early first aid treatment vital for burn injury victims? The burning process continues even after the cause of the burn has been removed. This causes further damage to the skin and underlying tissues. Cooling with running water will remove heat from the burn and prevent further damage from occurring. Burns that are cooled quickly will heal faster and with fewer complications such as long-term scarring. When cooling a burn, you need to be aware of the risk of hypothermia setting in, especially in children with major burns. Try to keep a victim warm while cooling the affected area.

Burn injuries can be classified into three different depths. Most burns are due to contact with a hot surface or liquid, which causes damage to the skin and underlying tissues. However, there are other causes of burns, including chemicals and the sun. We'll cover these types of burns in a different part of this pocket guide.

You need to watch out for shock in a burn victim. Major burns cause significant loss of fluid through the damaged skin. This can cause shock. Always monitor a major burn victim for signs and symptoms of shock.

Burn Injury Depths

Burn injuries can be broadly divided into three different depths:

◾ Superficial (first degree): damage to the top layer of skin cells

◾ Partial (second degree): blistering of the skin

◾ Full thickness (third degree): damage to deep muscle and soft tissues

You may find a burn injury has areas of different depths. For example, a severe burn may be third degree in the center with areas of second- and first-degree burns surrounding it.

First Aid Treatment for Major Burns

1. Call EMS.

2. Immediately cool the burned area with cool running water for a minimum of twenty minutes.

3. Cover the burn loosely with a non-fluffy sterile dressing. Clean plastic wrap can be used if no sterile dressings are available.

4. If the burn is affecting a limb, remove any rings, watches, or straps near the burned area.

5. Monitor the victim for hypothermia.

Major burn injuries can be life-threatening, especially in children and the elderly. Always call EMS for a major burn victim. In addition, infection is a common complication following burns, and these injuries need careful assessment and management by a specialist burn center.

Common Burn Injury Myths

There are many myths regarding the first aid treatment of burns. Major burns need to be quickly cooled with running water in order to stop the burning process.

◾ Do not apply toothpaste or butter to a burn. This will not cool the burn adequately. The best method to cool a major burn is to run cold water over it.

◾ Do not burst blisters as this will increase the risk of infection.

◾ Do not remove clothing stuck to burned skin. This can cause further damage to the skin.

Cool the Burn, Warm the Victim

Major burns require rapid cooling in order to stop the burning process. If a victim has burns covering large areas of her body, this cooling process may lead to the body's temperature dropping, resulting in hypothermia. You need to take steps to avoid hypothermia by monitoring the victim and attempting to keep her warm, while cooling the burn. For example, blankets can be used to cover non-burned areas. It is important to prevent hypothermia, since low body temperature can cause further complications for victims with major burns.