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Healthy Living

First Aid for First Degree Burns

What is a first-degree burn?

A first-degree burn, the least serious type, is one in which the top layer of skin has been burned slightly. These burns produce pain and redness of the skin.

What causes first-degree burns?

First-degree burns are usually caused by:

  • overexposure to the sun
  • brief contact with a hot object, such as an iron or skillet
  • minor scalding by hot water or steam
  • brief contact with harsh chemicals.

What are the symptoms?

First-degree burns cause redness, mild swelling (with few or no blisters), and pain. Some first-degree burns, such as extensive sunburns, cause restlessness, headaches, and fever.

What is the treatment?

Follow these steps:

  • Remove jewelry or tight clothing from the burned area before it begins to swell.
  • Flush the burn with cool running water or apply cold-water compresses (a wet towel or handkerchief) until the pain lessens. Do not use ice or ice water, which can cause more damage to the tissues.
  • Cover the burn with a clean (sterile, if possible), dry, nonfluffy bandage such as a gauze pad. Do not put tape on the burn.
  • Take aspirin or an aspirin substitute such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve the pain and inflammation.
  • Apply an antiseptic solution to help prevent infection or an aloe cream to soothe the skin. Do not use old-time folk remedies, especially food or oil, to help heal the burn. They can keep the burn from healing and may cause infection.
  • Get medical treatment for widespread first-degree burns.

For chemical burns, follow these steps:

  • Flush liquid chemicals from the skin thoroughly with running water for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • If the chemical spills on clothing or jewelry, remove it.
  • Brush dry chemicals off the skin if large amounts of water are not available. Small amounts of water will activate some chemicals like lime. Be careful not to get any of the chemicals in your eyes.
  • Cover the burn with a dry, loose bandage.

How long will it take a first-degree burn to heal?

Usually, first-degree burns heal quickly. The damaged skin may peel within a day or two. You will not have any scarring unless an infection occurs.

When should I see a doctor?

See your doctor immediately if you develop any of the following:

  • fever
  • puslike drainage from the burned area
  • excessive swelling of the burned area
  • increased redness of the skin.

Developed by McKessonHBOC Clinical Reference Systems.

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