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Burn Center

Burn Severity

Burns are primarily divided into 3 categories:

  1. First-degree or “superficial burns”
  2. Second-degree or “partial thickness burns”
  3. Third-degree or “full thickness burns”

How these types of burns are treated initially will determine whether there is a successful outcome.

Guidelines for the Treatment of Burns

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns involve the outer most layer of skin and are usually associated with a sun burn. Such an injury may occur from too much exposure to the sun (gardening, sunbathing, etc.). The skin is usually still intact but may appear to be red, very warm or hot to touch and painful. There may also be small blisters and swelling in and around the area of injury. Initial first-aid treatment for a first-degree burn include the following:


  • Stop the burning process: cool the burn with running cool (not cold) water for at least 5 minutes. But do not use ice, as this may cause further skin damage. Do not over cool! If the victim starts to shiver, stop the cooling process.

  • Remove all jewelry, watches, rings and clothing around the burned area as soon as possible.

  • Administer an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain control. Follow the directions on the label. Consult a physician or health care provider if pain is not relieved.

  • Cover the burn with a sterile gauge bandage or clean cloth. Wrap the burned area loosely to avoid putting too much pressure on the burn tissue.

  • Minor burns will usually heal without further treatment.

  • For small area burns, apply soothing lotions that contains aloe vera to the burned area to help relieve the pain and discomfort.

  • Seek medical attention if there is a persistent fever not relieved by medication or redness that may extend beyond the border of the burn or pain is not controlled by ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

  • Drink plenty of fluids (electrolyte containing solutions such as gator aid) if the person appears to be dehydrated.


  • Do not apply ice – this may cause further damage to the skin.

  • Do not use any butter, ointments or other home remedies on the burn. Such substances may trap the heat in the tissue and makes the burn worse.

  • Do not break any blisters … leave intact.

  • Do not delay seeing medical attention if the burn is larger than the size of the victim’s palm.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns occur when the second layer of skin (dermis) is burned. This burn usually has the following characteristics:

  • Very red
  • Blister formation
  • Extremely painful
  • Fair amount of swelling

In general, if a second-degree burn is smaller than 2-3 inches (7 centimeters), it may be treated as a minor burn. If the area burned is larger than this or involves functional parts of the body such as the feet, face, eye, ears, groin or major joints, more in-depth medical attention is needed. Take the person to the nearest emergency room, family doctor or minor emergency clinic to have the burn evaluated. Failure to do so may result in permanent disfigurement or loss of function.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are NOT minor burns and should be evaluated and treated by a healthcare provider immediately. A third-degree burn is a very serious burn, no matter what the size or area of the body that may be involved.

A third-degree burn involves all layers of the skin and can cause permanent tissue damage. The skin may appear to be charred, blackened or white. The skin texture may be very dry or leathery.


It may take several days for a mild first-degree or second-degree burn to heal. During that time, it is important that the affected area is observed for infection, such as redness extending beyond the burned area, changes in the appearance of the wound or slight fever not relieved by Tylenol.

As your skin begins to heal, you may also notice that it will itch, which can be very uncomfortable at times. This is normal and will eventually decrease. Frequent application of lotion can help keep the skin hydrated and minimize the itching process. If the itching is too severe, an over-the-counter medication such as Benadryl® may be helpful in easing the discomfort.

The wound should be kept clean with daily dressing changes. If you have any concern or questions, consult your healthcare provider. Once the burn has healed, limit the exposure of the burned skin to direct sunlight. Always wear sun protection.

Following the above guidelines should promote healing to most minor burns.

This information is from the American Burn Association.

It is important to note that the consumer should always seek the advice of a healthcare provider if there is any question regarding the healing process of a minor burn. The American Burn Association and the Burn Prevention Committee are not responsible or liable for any untoward complications suffered by any individual following these suggested guidelines. This material is for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, which you should seek from your physician. The ABA does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Most burns require immediate medical attention. If you have experienced a burn that requires urgent medical attention, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Appointments for Non-Urgent Burns

If you have a non-urgent burn and would like a second opinion, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who treat burns.