Understanding Burns and First Aid

Experiencing a burn can be both painful and alarming. Being prepared with the knowledge of proper first aid response is crucial for alleviating pain, discomfort and minimising potential complications from untreated/poorly treated burns. Whether it's a minor burn from a kitchen accident or a more serious one, understanding how to treat burns effectively is crucial. Our focus in this blog is to provide reliable and actionable advice on first aid for burns. You can confidently handle these common yet often underestimated injuries by equipping yourself with this information.

Types of Burns

Understanding the different types of burns is pivotal in administering effective burn first aid treatment. Each type of burn, be it thermal, chemical, or electrical, has unique characteristics and requires specific first aid methods. Recognising these differences ensures proper care is given promptly, minimising damage and accelerating healing.

Thermal Burns

Thermal burns are commonly caused by exposure to heat sources such as fire, steam, hot liquids, and objects. They are termed "thermal" due to their source – heat. The severity of a thermal burn relies on the heat source's temperature and the exposure duration.

  • Identification: Look for reddened skin, blisters, and, in severe cases, charred or white skin. Pain level can also indicate the burn's severity.
  • Common Sources: These burns often occur in the kitchen, from hot liquids or surfaces, or outdoors from open flames.
  • Prevention: To prevent thermal burns, practice caution around hot objects, supervise children in the kitchen, and adhere to safety guidelines when handling fire.
  • First Aid Tips: Immediately cool the area under running water for twenty minutes and cover with a sterile dressing for minor burns. For more severe burns, seek medical attention promptly.

Chemical Burns

Chemical burns occur when irritants such as acids, alkalis, or other dangerous substances come into contact with the skin or eyes. They can occur in various settings, from industrial workplaces to household cleaning. It is crucial to understand how to identify and prevent these burns, as they can cause severe tissue damage.

  • Identification: Chemical burns can manifest as redness, irritation, blisters, or even blackened skin. The severity depends on the chemical's strength and exposure duration.
  • Common Causes: Household cleaners, industrial chemicals, and even some personal care products can lead to chemical burns. Accidents can occur during the misuse of products or spillages.
  • Prevention: Always wear protective gear when handling chemicals, follow safety instructions, and store chemicals securely away from children and pets.
  • First Aid Tips: Remove any contaminated clothing carefully and rinse the affected area under running water for at least 20 minutes. Rinse the eyes with water immediately for eye exposure and seek medical attention. Avoid neutralising the chemical without professional advice.

Electrical Burns

Electrical burns, often underestimated in severity, occur when an electric current passes through the body. Understanding electrical burns is crucial, as they can cause significant internal damage that's not immediately visible.

  • Identification: Signs include entry and exit wounds, burns at the contact points, muscle contractions, and, in severe cases, unconsciousness. Unlike thermal burns, the damage from electrical burns can be internal and not immediately apparent.
  • Common Sources: Electrical burns can happen at home or work, often involving household appliances, power lines, or electrical machinery. For example, a person might get an electrical burn from a faulty toaster or while working on live electrical wires.
  • Prevention: To prevent these burns, ensure all electrical devices and outlets are in good condition, do not use electrical appliances with wet hands or near water, and follow safety protocols when working with electricity.
  • First Aid Tips: Refrain from touching the person if they are still in contact with the electrical source. Turn off the power source if possible, and call emergency services immediately. Do not apply ointments or water; cover the burn with a sterile bandage and wait for professional medical help.

UV Radiation Burns

UV radiation burns, primarily resulting from sun exposure, are among the most common types of skin injuries, affecting countless individuals globally.

  • Causes: The primary cause of UV radiation burns is prolonged or intense exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. These burns can occur even on cloudy days, as UV rays penetrate through clouds.
  • Identification: UV radiation burns manifest as reddened, sore, and swollen skin. In more severe cases, blisters may form. Unlike thermal burns, UV burns can lead to systemic symptoms such as dehydration, headache, and fever, especially in cases of extensive sun exposure.
  • Prevention: Effective prevention strategies include applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF, wearing hats and UV-protective clothing, and seeking shade throughout the sun's peak hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sunglasses with UV protection are also essential to safeguard the eyes.
  • Treatment: Immediate treatment involves cooling the skin with lukewarm baths or compresses to alleviate pain and reduce heat. Moisturisers containing aloe vera or soy can soothe the affected area. Stay hydrated to counteract dehydration, and consider over-the-counter pain relief to manage discomfort. 

Treatment for Burns

Effective treatment for burns is crucial for pain relief and preventing complications such as infections or scarring. Immediate and appropriate care is key in managing the injury, highlighting the importance of understanding different treatments for various types of burns.

Simple steps taken immediately after the burn can significantly impact the recovery process. It's essential to have a basic first aid kit at home or work, equipped with the necessary items to treat minor burns.

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are the most superficial type, affecting only the outer layer of skin. They are typically less severe and can be treated with basic first-aid measures. 

  • Characteristics: These burns usually cause redness, minor swelling, and pain. They often occur from brief contact with hot surfaces, sun exposure, or mild scalds.
  • Initial Treatment: Cool the burn under running tap water for at least 20 minutes. This helps reduce pain and swelling.
  • Skin Care: Apply a soothing lotion like aloe vera to moisturise and cool the skin. Avoid using butter, oils, or ice, which can worsen the burn.
  • Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, can help manage discomfort.
  • Bandaging: Cover the burn with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or cloth if necessary.
  • Monitoring: Watch for signs of infection, like increased redness, swelling, or pus. If symptoms worsen, seek medical attention.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns are more severe than first-degree burns, affecting both the skin's outer layer (epidermis) and the underlying layer (dermis). These burns require prompt and proper care to prevent complications and promote healing. While basic first aid is important, seeking medical advice is often necessary for these more severe burns.

  • Characteristics: These burns are identified by redness, swelling, blisters, and significant pain. Common causes include prolonged contact with hot fluids, steam, or fire.
  • Cooling the Burn: Immediately cool the burn under running tap water for at least 20 to 30 minutes. This reduces pain, swelling, and the risk of scarring.
  • Avoid Breaking Blisters: Do not break blisters, as they protect against infection. If they burst naturally, clean them gently with water.
  • Covering the Burn: Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick bandage or cloth after cooling. Avoid using cotton wool directly on the burn.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen can be utilised to relieve discomfort.
  • Antibiotic Creams: If a healthcare professional recommends, use an antibiotic cream or ointment to control infection.
  • Hydration: Keep the affected area moisturised with specific burn creams or aloe vera, but only after the initial treatment and cooling.
  • Professional Medical Attention: Second-degree burns often require professional medical evaluation, especially if they cover a large area or are located on sensitive areas like the face, hands, feet, or genitals.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are severe injuries that demand immediate and specialised medical treatment. They penetrate through the full thickness of the skin, often damaging underlying tissues, nerves, and muscles. Understanding how to respond to such burns is crucial, although comprehensive treatment should be left to medical professionals.


These burns often result from prolonged exposure to hot liquids, direct flame, electrical sources, or chemical agents. An example is a garment catching fire or severe electrical accidents.


  • Stop the Burning: Ensure the person is no longer in contact with the burning source. If clothing is on fire, advise them to stop, drop, and roll.
  • Call for Emergency Help: Immediately dial emergency services. Third-degree burns require professional medical attention.


  • Do Not Remove Stuck Clothing: Attempting to remove clothing stuck to the burn can cause more damage.
  • Cover the Burn: Use a clean, cool, moist bandage or cloth to cover the area lightly.
  • Do Not Apply Ice or Water: This can aggravate the injury and increase the risk of hypothermia.


  • Fluid Replacement: To compensate for fluid loss from the injury.
  • Pain Management: Despite potential nerve damage, the areas around the burn can be extremely painful.
  • Infection Control: Antibiotics and sterile dressings to prevent infection.
  • Surgical Intervention: Often includes debridement (removing dead tissue) and skin grafting.


  • Physical Therapy: To maintain movement and reduce scarring.
  • Psychological Support: Dealing with the trauma and long-term recovery process.

Chemical Burns

Chemical burns, caused by exposure to harmful substances, can be notably dangerous due to their potential to cause deep tissue damage. Quick and appropriate first aid is critical in minimising the harm and aiding recovery. 

  • Initial Response: Remove any contaminated clothing or jewellery to prevent further skin contact with the chemical.
  • Rinse and Cleanse: Immediately flush the affected spot with cool running water for at least 20 minutes. For dry chemicals, brush off any residue before rinsing.
  • Identify the Chemical: If possible, identify the chemical involved, as this information is crucial for emergency responders and medical personnel.
  • Seek Medical Help: After first aid, seek professional medical treatment immediately. Chemical burns can cause more profound tissue damage that might not be immediately apparent.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used for pain, but following medical advice is essential, especially if there's extensive damage.
  • First Aid Kit: Ensure it includes gloves and a safety shield or goggles, particularly in environments where chemical exposure is risky.

Electrical Burns

While less common, electrical burns present unique challenges due to how electricity interacts with the body. These burns can cause severe internal damage, often more than is visible on the skin. Treating electrical burns involves a combination of immediate first aid and professional medical care. Due to the risk of internal damage, treating all electrical burns as serious, regardless of their external appearance, is important.

  • Initial Response: Ensure the area is safe, and the person is no longer in contact with the electrical source. Do not touch the person if they are still in contact with the electricity.
  • Call Emergency Services: Due to the potential for internal injuries, always call for medical help immediately after an electrical burn.
  • First Aid: If the person is unconscious, check for breathing and a pulse and begin CPR if qualified. If conscious, try to calm them and cover any visible burns with a sterile, dry dressing. Do not use ice or water.
  • Hospital Treatment: Medical professionals will assess and treat for both external burns and internal injuries. Treatment may include pain relief, wound care, and monitoring for heart and other organ issues.
  • Medication: Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection and pain medication for relief.
  • Long-Term Effects: Be aware of potential long-term effects like nerve damage, muscle pain, and psychological impacts. Follow-up care is often necessary.

UV Radiation Burns

Addressing radiation burns, especially those from UV exposure due to the sun, demands a focused approach to alleviate discomfort, ward off infection, and enhance the healing process. Sunburn, a prevalent form of radiation burn, can usually be managed effectively at home.

  • Initial Care for Sunburn: Cool the affected skin with tepid water to soothe the burn. Aloe vera gel or a cooling moisturiser can relieve discomfort, while ample fluid intake helps hydrate the body. It's crucial to limit any additional sun exposure to prevent further damage.
  • Managing Pain: Over-the-counter analgesics are adequate for the discomfort associated with mild sunburns. More intense radiation burn symptoms may require prescribed pain relief medications to manage effectively.
  • Care for the Skin: Maintaining the cleanliness of the burn area and covering it with a soft, non-adherent dressing is essential. It's advised only to apply creams or ointments recommended by a healthcare provider.
  • Home Management Tips: To support recovery from sunburn, keep your skin moisturised and hydrated. Avoid the temptation to peel or pop blisters, which can introduce infection and slow the healing trajectory.

Preventing Burns

Preventing burns, whether at home, outdoors, or in the workplace, is critical to ensure safety for everyone. Being aware of potential burn hazards and knowing how to avoid them can significantly decrease the chance of injury. Educating yourself and others on burn prevention is as essential as knowing how to treat them. Remember, preventing burns is always better than treating them.

Safe Handling of Hot Objects

Handling hot objects safely is a crucial skill in burn prevention. This applies in various settings, from the kitchen to industrial environments.

  • Kitchen Safety: Use oven mitts or potholders when handling hot pots, pans, or baking trays. Keep hot liquids and foods away from the edges of counters to prevent spills.
  • Workplace Precautions: In industrial settings, wear protective gear like gloves or protective clothing when handling hot materials. Ensure that safety protocols are followed at all times.
  • Childproofing: In homes with children, keep hot drinks, cooking utensils, and other hot objects out of reach. Use back burners on the stove and turn pot handles away from the front.
  • Outdoor Caution: When camping or at a barbecue, ensure that all members, especially children, are aware of the hot surfaces and open flames. Establish a safe zone around grills and campfires.

Proper Use of Chemicals

Safe and proper handling of chemicals is essential to prevent chemical burns. Whether in a domestic setting or a professional environment, understanding the properties of chemicals and respecting their potential hazards is critical to ensuring safety and preventing injuries.

  • Reading Labels: Always read and follow instructions on chemical product labels. They provide crucial information on safe handling, storage, and first aid measures in case of exposure.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): In a work environment dealing with hazardous chemicals, use appropriate PPE such as gloves, goggles, and aprons. At home, wear gloves when using potent cleaning agents.
  • Safe Storage: Store chemicals in their original containers with labels intact. Keep them in a secure place, out of reach of children and pets, and away from food items.
  • Ventilation: Ensure good ventilation when using chemicals. Open windows or use fans to dissipate fumes, especially in confined spaces.
  • Mixing Products: Avoid mixing different chemicals, which can create dangerous reactions. For instance, mixing bleach with ammonia or vinegar produces toxic gases.
  • Spill Management: In case of spills, clean them up immediately following the product's safety guidelines. For larger spills, especially in industrial settings, follow emergency procedures and evacuate the area if necessary.
  • Disposal: Dispose of chemicals according to local regulations. Don’t pour them down the drain unless instructed.

Electrical Safety Measures

Staying informed about safe practices and ensuring that everyone in the household or workplace knows these precautions is crucial in preventing electrical burn injuries.

  • Regular Inspection of Electrical Equipment: Ensure that all electrical appliances, cords, and outlets are regularly checked for damage or wear. Frayed wires or damaged plugs should be repaired or replaced immediately.
  • Proper Use of Extension Cords: Avoid overloading extension cords and power strips, which can lead to overheating and potentially cause burns or fires. Use extension cords only as a temporary resolution, not permanent household wiring.
  • Safe Handling of Electrical Devices: Always unplug an appliance before cleaning or repairing it. Keep electrical devices away from water to prevent electric shocks or burns.
  • Childproofing: Use safety covers on all unused electrical outlets to protect children from electric shock and burns. Keep electrical appliances and cords out of reach of children.
  • Workplace Safety: When handling electrical equipment in an industrial or construction situation, always use the appropriate protection gear. Follow all safety protocols, such as locking out and tagging out circuits and machinery being serviced or repaired.
  • Awareness of Surroundings: Avoid overhead power lines when using ladders, poles, or other long objects outdoors. Maintain a safe distance from power lines, transformers, and substations.

Sunburn Prevention

Sunburn causes immediate discomfort and can raise the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging. Understanding and practising effective sunburn prevention methods is vital.

  • Use Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50. Reapply every two hours or more often if swimming or sweating. Remember, sunscreen should also be used on cloudy days, as UV rays can penetrate through clouds.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats protect against the sun's rays. Clothes with UV protection are especially beneficial for outdoor activities.
  • Seek Shade: Whenever possible, stay under shade, particularly during the midday hours when the sun's rays are strongest. This is crucial at the beach, park, or during outdoor events.
  • Sunglasses are Essential: Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that block 100% UVA and UVB rays. This also helps protect the delicate skin around the eyes.
  • Avoid Peak Sun Hours: Try to plan outdoor activities in the early morning or late afternoon, avoiding the peak sun intensity between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Educate Children Early: Teach children the importance of sun protection. Encourage them to play in shaded areas, wear hats, and apply sunscreen.

Fire Safety Precautions

Fire safety precautions are essential to prevent burns and protect lives and property. It can significantly lower the risk of fires and related burns. Remember, the best way to treat a burn is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

  • Smoke Alarms: Install smoke detectors in your home's main rooms, such as the kitchen, bedrooms, and hallways. Make sure they are operating correctly by giving them regular tests and maintenance.
  • Safe Cooking Practices: Never leave cooking unattended, especially when using oil or high temperatures. Keep flammable materials like towels and paper away from the stove.
  • Electrical Safety: Regularly check cords for damage and avoid overloading power outlets. Keep electrical appliances away from water and turn them off when not in use.
  • Candle and Open Flame Caution: Never leave candles or open flames unattended. Keep them away from flammable materials and out of reach of children and pets.
  • Fire Extinguishers: Keep a fire extinguisher accessible in your home, particularly in the kitchen, and ensure all family members know how to use it.
  • Escape Plan: Create and practise a fire escape plan with your family. Everyone must know at least two ways to exit each room and designate a safe meeting point outside.
  • Outdoor Fires: When having a bonfire or using a fire pit, maintain a safe distance from buildings and trees, and always have a water source or a fire extinguisher nearby.

Empowering Safety: A Final Word on Burns

In this comprehensive guide, we've explored the crucial aspects of burn prevention and treatment. From understanding the different types of burns, such as thermal and radiation burns, to discussing the appropriate response for each severity level, the information provided aims to empower you with knowledge and confidence. We've underscored the importance of immediate action, particularly for severe injuries like third-degree burns, and emphasised preventive measures in various settings to ensure safety and well-being.

Be Prepared with Allstate Healthcare

At Allstate Healthcare, we encourage you to equip yourself with the necessary tools and knowledge to respond effectively to burn emergencies. Our range of first aid and burn treatment kits is designed to meet your needs, whether at home, work, or on the go. Visit our website today to ensure you’re ready for any burn-related emergencies.