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Emergency Care for Burn Victims

Emergency Care Overview

The intent of these pages is to provide you with information for the basic emergency care required within the first 24 hours after a burn injury. Patients with serious burn injuries should be referred to a burn center according to the Referral Criteria established by the American Burn Association.

In order to determine the seriousness of a particular burn injury there are two areas of concern: The depth of the injury and the extent, or how much of the person is burned. This is very important information in terms of deciding how to treat the patient and determining morbidity and mortality.

We will begin by first reviewing the depth of burn injury. We will start with first degree burns. The most obvious example of a first degree burn is the sunburn. First degree burns involve only the epidermis, which is the superficial layer of the skin. Locally, there is tenderness and redness of the skin but the most important thing to remember about first degree burns is that they don't make you very sick. You may get a fever or a chill but most people can go home and resuscitate themselves with oral fluids. People with first degree burns do not need to be hospitalized or resuscitated. The wounds will heal on their own without scarring in about 4 to 5 days. The main thing to remember about treating first degree burns is treat the symptoms. Make the patient feel better. The exception for the care of patients with first degree burns, are the very old or very young patients, for they can become seriously ill even from small first degree burns. The reason for this is due to their increased sensitivity to fluid loss and dehydration.

This diagram of the skin is intended to show you that the epidermis is the most superficial layer of the skin This is the only layer that is damaged in a first degree burn. The dermis which is considerably thicker, contains most of the important structures of the skin. When the dermis is involved in the burn injury, the risk for complications is much greater.

Emergency Care Overview
Burns by Degree
Extent of Injury
Management of the Burn Victim
Treatment of the Burn Victim

*DISCLAIMER: This site is designed as an introduction to thermal injury for emergency medical technicians, medical students and physicians in training. It is not a comprehensive guide to thermal injury. As such the information may not be sufficient to address specific patient problems and these should be handled by physicians familiar with the specific clinical details pertinent to the individual patient. We invite comments from all users of this site.