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How to Treat and Dress a Burn

By Aubrey Bailey ; Updated July 27, 2017

Burns range in severity from first degree to third degree, based on the extent of damage that occurs. First-degree burns do not break the skin but cause redness and pain. Second-degree burns penetrate through the second layer of the skin, causing severe redness, blotchy skin and pain. Blisters can develop with first- and second-degree burns. Third-degree burns are a medical emergency. These burns blacken the skin and often are accompanied by other injuries such as smoke inhalation. Underlying bones and muscles can be exposed, and the risk of infection is high. Minor burns can be treated at home.

Rinse the burned area with cool water. Do not apply ice or rinse it with cold water because this causes further damage to the burned tissues. Pat dry with sterile gauze.

Apply nonstick sterile gauze to the wound. Used rolled gauze to secure in place, wrapping it around the injured area, and tape it in place.

Change the dressing daily. Do not use ointments -- the risk of infection will increase as bacteria is "sealed" in the wound. Leave blisters intact -- they act as a barrier to the skin healing underneath. When the wound is no longer open or draining, use an adhesive bandage for protection until the skin sensitivity has improved.

Take anti-inflammatory medication per the dosage instructions until pain and swelling have resolved.


Seek medical attention immediately for third-degree burns and minor burns that cover large areas of the body.

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