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Immediate Steps to Take After a Thermal Burn

Thermal Burn
Written by Nancy

A thermal burn is a skin injury that’s caused by excessive heat, typically through contact with hot surfaces or hot liquids, steam, and fire.

Thermal burns are categorized as first, second, or third degree. Most burns need immediate attention; the higher the degree, the greater the level of care required.

Thermal burns are among the most common types of medical injury, but Level 1 or Level 2 first aid training can go a long way in lessening the long-term effect of burns.

For a first degree burn

A first degree burn is characterized by red skin and no blisters; it’s also usually moist to the touch. These only affect the outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis. First degree burns are typically easy to treat, and clear up within ten days if proper first aid training skills are used. For a first degree burn, take the following steps:

  • Run cool water over the affected area for at least five minutes
  • Apply aloe vera or anesthetic cream to the burn
  • Take over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen

For a second degree burn

The damage of a second degree burn extends beyond the upper layer of the skin. As a result, both the epidermis and the dermis are damaged, making the skin red and sore.

Blisters may also appear and pop, which gives the skin a weeping appearance. Most second degree burns heal completely within three weeks, although the skin’s pigment may change. For a second degree burn:

  • Run cool water over the affected area for at least fifteen minutes
  • Apply antibiotic cream to the affected area
  • Make sure that the burn area is completely clean in order to prevent infection and bandage it to keep it dry
  • Take over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen
  • See a doctor if the pain gets worse, or if the burn is on the hands, face, feet, or genitals

For a third degree burn

Third degree burns damage the epidermis, dermis, and underlying tissue. In some cases, third degree burns can even extend to the fat layer. The skin loses sensation and may be blackened. For a third degree burn:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Protect the affected area. If the burns are on the fingers or toes, separate the fingers and toes. Cover the burn with sterile bandages loosely.
  • Prevent the victim from shock. Elevate the feet. Check their pulse and heart rate.
  • Get a medical check-up. Third degree burns always require proper medical attention.

Burns are preventable, but are all too common. Most first and second degree burns can be treated with basic first aid training. Metro Safety First Aid Training School provides various levels of first aid training to students across British Columbia. Call them at 604-521-4227 or email them at to find out about their courses today to keep you and your loved ones safe in case of emergencies.

About the author


I’m Nancy and no, I didn’t always look like I do in that picture on the right. My foray into health and fitness began as a brace-faced, 16 year-old who was too afraid to wear a two-piece at the beach because I felt my body paled in comparison to my much more toned friends.

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