Heat, chemicals, electricity, or radiation can cause burns. A burn is classified by its depth. A first-degree burn, such as mild sunburn, affects only the outer skin layer, and causes it to become dry, red, and painful without blistering. Long-term tissue damage is rare and usually consists of an increase or decrease in the skin color. A second-degree burn involves several layers of skin. This burn is red, swollen, painful, and blistered. A third-degree burn involves all layers of skin and may involve underlying tissues as well. In this type of burn, the skin is dry and white or charred black in appearance. Because of nerve injury in a third degree burn, there may be minimal pain or a complete lack of pain.

Most burns seen in college health occur in connection with food and beverage preparation, especially when the victim is in a hurry or over-tired.


  • Be mindful when handling hot liquids and foods. Use oven mitts to remove food from the microwave or oven.
  • Install working smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher in your home
  • Set your water heater to 120ºF (49ºC) or less
  • Stop, drop, and roll on the ground to smother the flames if your clothing catches on fire.


Home care    Home Care

  • Stop the burning process: Run the affected skin under cool water for 15 minutes or longer or immerse in cool water. Do not apply ice.
  • Remove rings and jewelry in case swelling occurs.
  • Evaluate the extent of the burn.
    • For large area first or second degree burns, or any burn that is potentially third degree, seek medical care promptly.
    • For small first and second degree burns:
      • Gently cleanse area with soap and water; pat dry with sterile gauze.
      • Apply bacitracin and non-adherent sterile dressing.
      • Use a pain medicine (analgesic) such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®, Paracetamol) per package instructions.
      • Leave blisters intact. If blisters do break, clean the area with water, apply an antibiotic ointment, such as bacitracin, and cover with a loose dressing.

Professional care   Professional Care

Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • You suspect you have a third-degree burn
  • The burn involves the face, hands, feet, genitals, or any joint area
  • The burn involves an area of more than a few inches
  • The pain lasts more than 48 hours
  • Any signs of infection are present (increasing pain, redness, swelling, pus or fever)
  • Your tetanus vaccination status is unknown