How To Distinguish Between and Treat Minor and Major Burns

There are several distinguishing marks to look for when making an identification of a burn in order to identify if it is a minor burn or a major burn. First-degree burns and second-degree burns that are less than the area of your palm are considered to be minor burns. Second-degree burns that are the size of your palm or cover a larger area than this and third-degree burns are considered to be major burns and these burns require immediate professional medical care.

First-degree burns are the least serious of burns and can be treated with first aid seldom needing medical attention. The skin will appear red; there may be some swelling and pain of the skin area affected by the burn. The outer layer of skin is the only skin layer to be affected by the burn. A first-degree burn may be considered major if it involves substantial portions of the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint.

Second-degree burns are when the skin is burned through the first layer of skin and the second layer of the skin known as the dermis is also burned. Blisters are typically seen in second-degree burns. The skin is intensely red, and may have a splotchy appearance. There is intense pain and swelling in second-degree burns.

If the second-degree burn is equal to or larger than your palm (usually 3″ – 7.5 centimeters or larger), than it is treated as a major burn. Less than this measurement it is treated as a minor burn.

First Aid for minor burns include:

Cooling the burn by holding the burned area under running cool water until the pain subsides. The burn can also be placed in a cool bath (not ice) or cold compresses placed on the area if the compress has cloth on it to protect the skin area.

The purpose of cooling the burn is to reduce swelling by conducting the heat away from the skin. Never put ice on a burn.

The burn should be covered with a sterile gauze bandage after the skin has been cooled. Wrap the gauze loosely to avoid pulling tender skin or putting pressure on the skin.

The purpose of bandaging is to keep air off the burn and to reduce pain and also to protect the blistered skin from dirt and germs.

Pain relief can be obtained by using over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, or Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Children and teens should never be given aspirin.

Other than first aid, minor burns usually do not require further treatment unless they appear to be infected, or pain increases, a fever develops or other signs of infection like swelling, oozing of the area etc.; a medical professional is then needed.

Never break a blister

Never use ice on a burn

Never apply butter, oil or other ointments on a burn

First-Aid for major burns include:

The major burns are usually painless due to numbness from permanent tissue damage. Fat, muscle and sometimes-even bone are involved in the burn injury. The skin area affected by a major burn may appear white, black or charred looking, even dry looking. An individual may have difficulty breathing (inhaling or exhaling) and may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, or toxic fumes. Smoke inhalation is quite common in fires.

In the case of major burns, call 911 immediately.

First-aid may be rendered while waiting for help to arrive.

Never remove clothing from a burn victim.

Never immerse major burns in cold water as this may bring on shock.

Check for signs of breathing, and heartbeat. If breathing or the heart is not beating begin CPR.

Elevate the burned body part above heart level if possible.

Cover the burn using a cool, moist and sterile bandage.