First Aid for Burns

Cool, clean, and treat with advice from Buck Tilton, Backpacker’s Medicine Man.
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Cool, clean, and treat with advice from Buck Tilton, Backpacker’s Medicine Man.

First degree (superficial)
These burns result from quick exposure to flame, coals, or a still-hot stove. Our reflexes typically save us from severe tissue damage. Superficial burns manifest as pink, tender skin. Quickly dip the affected area in a stream or apply a cold-water compress (avoid ice or snow; they can cause tissue damage), and keep it there for 10 minutes. Dab a skin moisturizer on the area around the burn.

Second degree (partial thickness)
When exposure to heat sources lasts a few seconds, blisters can occur right away, or they may not show up for hours. Cool, as above, then cover the wound with a nonstick dressing. If the blister pops, peel back the skin, clean the wound, and cover with a clean, nonstick bandage.

Third degree (full thickness)
The worst burns can leave skin charred, with extreme pain radiating outward. (Sometimes the wound itself can be painless due to nerve damage.) Immediately cool the wound and administer ibuprofen to help with swelling and pain. Carefully wash the affected area and keep it covered with a nonstick gauze bandage. See a doctor for burns larger than a quarter, but if you’re able to keep the wound clean, there’s no rush to immediately evacuate.

Seek Helpp
Many burns will remain stable if kept clean and sterile bandages are changed frequently. However, if second- or third-degree burns cover more than 15 percent of the victim’s body (measure it: the area of your palm equals about 1 percent), evacuate right away.