Assessing the severity of a burn is an important part of determining how to treat the burn injury, as well as deciding whether to evacuate the burned victim.
Difficulty: Moderate Steps
The first step in how to treat a burn injury is the most logical step. Look at the burn site to be treated: If the skin is red and painful but there are no blisters, chances are it’s a superficial burn.
Look for blistering and wetness and ask about degree of pain. If blistering is present and pain is severe, the burn is probably partial-thickness.
Consider a full-thickness burn if the injured person reports no pain, or just a dull pain, in the center of the burned area. The skin may also look charred and grayish in color.
Look at the injured person’s palm: The surface area of the palm represents approximately 1 percent of the person’s TBSA (total body surface area).
Compare this area to the extent of the burn to arrive at a TBSA figure. Burns covering more than 15 percent TBSA are life-threatening, especially partial- and full-thickness burns.
Continue with treatment for the burn (see “How to Treat a Burn in the Wilderness”).
Tips & Warnings
- The terminology of burn depth has changed: Superficial, partial-thickness and full-thickness used to be known as first-, second- and third-degree. You may be more familiar with that naming system.
- Blisters may take up to 24 hours to develop in partial-thickness burns, so lack of blisters doesn’t necessarily mean the burn is only superficial. Degree of pain may be a more reliable immediate measure.
- Burns in certain areas are more dangerous than others: the face, neck, hands, feet, armpits, groin, genitals and buttocks.
- When in doubt, evacuate the burn victim.
*This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.