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How to Treat a Burn

Published: February 2, 2022

When treating a burn, there are a few critical steps to follow to ensure it heals well quickly. How to treat a burn is covered in three steps that all start with C. The three c’s are call, cool, and cover. Each one is critical to help the patient heal and recover without additional problems like infection. Additional information like knowing the difference between first, second-, and third-degrees burns could also be educational. In addition to the three C’s, there are a few more things that should be done to help ease pain and decrease further injury.

When the burn first takes place, be sure you first remove the person from the source of the burn if possible. Put out the fire if possible, extinguish burning clothing, and have the person stop, drop, and roll. This means they would stop where they are, drop to the ground and cover their eyes and mouth, and roll over back and forth until they are no longer on fire. Remove any smoldering clothing as well as jewelry, belts, or contact lenses. This is needed because the burned area will likely swell very quickly.

How to treat a burn

Call

If the burn appears to be severe and will need additional medical attention, assign someone to call emergency personnel so they can be on their way.

Cool

Once you have done all the steps so far, you must cool the burn by running cool or lukewarm water over it for 20 minutes.  Try to do this within three hours of the initial burn. If the burn is so severe that all skin has been removed, or appears to be charred, white, black, or brown, then do not run it under cool water as it could cause the person to go into hypothermia from the loss of heat. With any burn, make sure that you are cooling the burn, while at the same time warming the patient.

Cover

Cover the affected area with a sterile cloth or a moist compress. Make sure the cover is loose and ensure that the cover will not leave lint in the wound. Elevate the burn above heart level if possible, or have the patient sit up if it is a facial burn. If the burn is severe, do not apply any ointments until emergency personal arrive and can assess the situation. If the burn is minor, antibiotic ointment can be applied after the burn has been cooled.

Knowing how to treat a burn is critical in situations where the danger is present.  Preventing burns at home or in a commercial kitchen is also needed and can be found on this OSHA Tip Sheet. In addition to knowing proper burn care, first aid and CPR may be needed. You can find a first aid and CPR training in the Hard Hat Training series. Trainings beyond CPR and first aid also can be found at in the Hard Hat Training Series .

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