First Aid For Burns

Thermal burns require immediate treatment to minimise the damage to the patient's tissues. This guide outlines the first aid treatment of burns that is recommended by the Australian Resuscitation Council.

First Aid For Burns

Burns can be caused by flames and heat sources, and also by cold, electricity, chemicals, gases, radiation and friction. This guide only covers treatment of thermal burns. For details of how to manage other types of burns please refer to the Australian Resuscitation Council Guidline 9.1.3: Burns.

This video from Premium Health explains the different types of thermal burns and what to do when a burn occurs.

Quick Steps To Treat Thermal Burns

The Australian Resuscitation Council recommends the following approach to providing first aid for thermal burns:

  • Check for danger to yourself, the victim and bystanders.
  • If the victim is still burning: Stop, Drop, Cover and Roll:
  • Smother the flames with a blanket and move to a safer place if necessary.
  • If the victim appears to be unconscious, follow the DRS-ABCD process described on the Basic Life Support and CPR page. Be aware that the airway may be compromised due to smoke inhalation.
  • Immediately place the burn under cold tap water and keep it there for at least 20 minutes. DO NOT use ice or ice water.
  • While the burn is under the cold tap water:
    • For serious burns (please see below), call an ambulance: Dial 000.
    • If you can do so without damaging the patient, carefully remove constricting items from the injury area, such as rings, watches and jewellery. DO NOT peel off clothing or other substances that are stuck to the vitim.
  • Elevate burned limbs to minimise swelling.
  • Cover the burn with a non-stick dressing (e.g. cling wrap)
  • Keep the victim warm. Victims of serious burns can suffer from hypothermia so cover the victim with blankets.
  • For serious burns, monitor the patient continuously until help arrives. Burns around the face are particularly dangerous since they may cause the airway to gradually swell resulting in a delayed onset of breathing difficulty.
  • DO NOT burst any blisters.
  • DO NOT apply lotions, ointments, creams or powders other than hydrogel.

What is a Serious Burn?

Serious burns include those that are significant enough to warrant seeking medical attention and that meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Burns greater than 10% Total Body Surface Area (TBSA)
  • Burns greater than 5% TBSA in children
  • Full thickness burns greater than 5% TBSA
  • Burns of Special Areas – Face, Hands, Feet, Genitalia, Perineum, Major Joints and circumferential limb or chest burns
  • Burns with inhalation injury
  • Electrical burns
  • Chemical burns
  • Non-minor burns in patients that already have other serious medical disorders such as diabetes or heart disease
  • Burns in young children and the elderly
  • Burns in pregnant women
  • Burns associated with major physical trauma (e.g. a motor vehicle accident).