A burn is damage to skin or tissue caused by exposure to heat or radiation. They are broken down into three types, depending on severity:
- First-degree - these burns cause pain and redness, but usually present with no further complications. Treatment is to cool down the affected area and cover it with a sterile bandage until it heals. An antiseptic ointment or lotion is recommended before dressing.
- Second-degree - these burns penetrate the upper layer of the skin and cause both pain and blistering. These burns require immediate medical attention as the blisters can allow opportunistic infections to enter the body. First-aid is to cover the affected area with sterile non-adhesive dressing and then wrap the dressing to prevent infection. Ice may be used outside the dressing, but the wound should be kept dry. Under no circumstances should creams or lotions be used on the burn except under medical direction.
- Third-degree - these burns penetrate the skin, causing ulceration and exposure of the underlying tissues. Opportunistic infection is a near certainty and the patient should be given antibiotics as soon as possible. Any third-degree burn, even a small one, is an emergency medical situation. First aid is to cover the affected area with sterile non-adhesive dressing and to leave the dressing as loose as possible to prevent adhesion and allow loss of heat. Antiseptic preparations such as ointments or liquids should never be used.
Minor burns will heal themselves, but large or third-degree burns require some medical attention to allow healing. Major burns usually require skin grafts in order to heal at all.
Pain management is always a consideration with even minor burns. With major burns, anesthetic may be necessary. With minor burns, ice should be used to reduce local pain and swelling, but analgesics may be used.