Burns commonly occur by direct or indirect contact with heat, electric current, radiation, or chemical agents. Burns can lead to cell death, which can require hospitalization and can be fatal.


Causes of burns from most to least common are:

  • Fire/flame
  • Scalding from steam or hot liquids
  • Touching hot objects
  • Electrical burns
  • Chemical burns

Burns can be the result of any of the following:

  • House and industrial fires
  • Car accidents
  • Playing with matches
  • Faulty space heaters, furnaces, or industrial equipment
  • Unsafe use of firecrackers and other fireworks
  • Kitchen accidents, such as a child grabbing a hot iron or touching the stove or oven
  • You can also burn your airways if you breathe in smoke, steam, superheated air, or chemical fumes in poorly ventilated areas.


Burn symptoms can include:

  • Blisters that are either intact (unbroken) or have ruptured and are leaking fluid.
  • Pain — How much pain you have is unrelated to the level of burn. The most serious burns can be painless.
  • Peeling skin.
  • Shock — Watch for pale and clammy skin, weakness, blue lips and fingernails, and a decrease in alertness.
  • Swelling.
  • Red, white, or charred skin.

You may have an airway burn if you have:

  • Burns on the head, face, neck, eyebrows, or nose hairs
  • Burned lips and mouth
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dark, black-stained mucus
  • Voice changes
  • Wheezing



If the skin is unbroken:

  • Run cool water over the area of the burn or soak it in a cool water bath (not ice water). Keep the area under water for at least 5 to 30 minutes. A clean, cold, wet towel will help reduce pain.
  • Calm and reassure the person.
  • After flushing or soaking the burn, cover it with a dry, sterile bandage or clean dressing.
  • Protect the burn from pressure and friction.
  • Over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve pain and swelling. DO NOT give aspirin to children under 12.
  • Once the skin has cooled, a moisturizing lotion containing aloe and an antibiotic also can help.
  • Minor burns will often heal without further treatment. Make sure the person is up to date on their tetanus immunization.


If someone is on fire, tell the person to stop, drop, and roll. Then, follow these steps:

  • Wrap the person in thick material; such as a wool or cotton coat, rug, or blanket. This helps put out the flames.
  • Pour water on the person.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
  • Make sure that the person is no longer touching any burning or smoking materials.
  • DO NOT remove burned clothing that is stuck to the skin.
  • Make sure the person is breathing. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
  • Cover the burn area with a dry sterile bandage (if available) or a clean cloth. A sheet will do if the burned area is large. DO NOT apply any ointments. Avoid breaking burn blisters.
  • If fingers or toes have been burned, separate them with dry, sterile, non-stick bandages.
  • Raise the body part that is burned above the level of the heart.
  • Protect the burn area from pressure and friction.
  • If an electrical injury may have caused the burn, DO NOT touch the victim directly. Use a non-metallic object to separate the person away from exposed wires before starting first aid.

You will also need to prevent shock. If the person does not have a head, neck, back, or leg injury, follow these steps:

  • Lay the person flat
  • Raise the feet about 12 inches (30 centimeters)
  • Cover the person with a coat or blanket
  • Continue to monitor the person’s pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure until medical help arrives.


Things that should not be done for burns include:

  • DO NOT apply oil, butter, ice, medicines, cream, oil spray, or any household remedy to a severe burn.
  • DO NOT breathe, blow, or cough on the burn.
  • DO NOT disturb blistered or dead skin.
  • DO NOT remove clothing that is stuck to the skin.
  • DO NOT give the person anything by mouth if there is a severe burn.
  • DO NOT place a severe burn in cold water. This can cause shock.
  • DO NOT place a pillow under the person’s head if there is an airway burn. This can close the airways.


Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine