Don’t Get Burned! — Tips From the American Burn Association

According to the American Burn Association, burn injuries continue to be one of the leading causes of unintentional death and injury in the United States.

As part of National Burn Awareness Week (observed the first full week in February), the ABA has provided the following statistics:

  • Between 2011 and 2015, approximately 486,000 fire or burn injuries were seen at Emergency Departments.
  • One civilian fire injury occurs every minute and one civilian fire death occurs every 2 hours 35 minutes.
  • Most of the burn injuries treated in burn centers occur in the home (73%) followed by work (8%).
  • The primary causes of burn injury include fire-flame, scalds, contact with a hot object, electrical and chemicals.
  • The lifetime odds of a U.S. resident dying from exposure to fire, flames or smoke are 1 in 1,498.
  • Almost one-quarter (24%) of all burn injuries occur in children under the age of 15. In 2011-2015, children under five are 2.4 times as likely as the general population to suffer burn injuries that require emergency medical treatment.
  • 96.7% of those treated in burn centers will survive. Unfortunately, many survivors will sustain serious scarring and life-long physical disabilities.

Types of burns

WHN Expert TIP – Proper Treatment is Critical. According to the ABA, how a burn is initially treated will determine whether there is a successful outcome.

Burns are primarily divided into three categories:

  • First-degree or superficial burn — involves the outer most layer of skin and are usually associated with a sunburn. 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.
  • Second-degree or partial thickness burn — occurs when the second layer of skin (dermis) is burned. This burn usually is very red and extremely painful, may blister and have a fair amount of swelling.
  • Third-degree or full thickness burn — a very serious burn that should be evaluated and treated by a healthcare provider, no matter what size it is or where on the body it’s located. The skin may appear to be charred, blackened, or white, with the skin texture may be very dry or leathery. It involves all layers of the skin and can cause permanent tissue damage


Here are some quick first aid tips for burns from the ABA:

First-degree or superficial burn

  1. Cool the burn with running cool (not cold) water for at least 5 minutes. Don’t use ice and don’t over-cool to the point where you start shivering.
  2. Remove any jewelry or clothing around the burned area as soon as possible.
  3. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain control, contacting your doctor if it doesn’t help.
  4. Apply soothing lotions that contain aloe vera to burned area and then loosely cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage or clean cloth.

Minor burns will usually heal without further treatment. Call your doctor if you develop a persistent fever, if the pain doesn’t get better, or if the redness extends beyond the burned area.

Second-degree or partial thickness burn

  1. If the burn is smaller than 2-3 inches (7 centimeters) treat it as a minor burn.
  2. If the area burned is larger than this, or involves functional parts of the body such as feet, face, eye, ears, groin or located over major joints, go 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 or full thickness burn

IMPORTANT: This is NOT a minor burn and should be evaluated and treated by a healthcare provider.

WHN TIP – Not Sure? Call Your Doctor! If you aren’t sure what degree the burn is or whether it needs medical treatment, play it safe and contact your doctor. Also, if you have other health issues that could impact your recovery from a burn, get medical advice.