First Aid Merit Badge
Heat Injuries Burns Cold Injuries
Click here for a printable version of this page.
First Aid merit badge 5f: Describe symptoms, treatment and prevention of burns

Tenderfoot 12b: Show first aid for minor burns or scalds (first-degree) and sunburn

Second Class 6c: Show first aid for serious burns (second degree)

Burns are divided into three classes: first-, second- and third- degree burns. First-degree burns are the most minor; third-degree burns are the most serious.

Preventing a burn is often a matter of common sense: be aware of heat sources and wear protective equipment when necessary. Be aware of potentially flammable materials and take appropriate measures to protect yourself from accidental ignition. In the case of sunburn, wear sunscreen and limit exposure to direct sunlight.

First-degree burns and Sunburns
A first-degree burn is a burn that damages only the surface of the skin. A sunburn is a first-degree burn caused by the radiant energy of the sun.

Symptoms include:

Treatment of first-degree burns includes:

First-degree burns are not life-threatening.

Second-degree burns
A second-degree burn is a burn that damages the surface of the skin and the tissue beneath.

Symptoms include:

Treatment of second-degree burns includes:

Small second-degree burns (a burned hand) are not life-threatening. Large second-degree burns that cover more than 9% of the body are life-threatening. Use the "rule of nines" as a guide. Second-degree burns on the face require medical attention.

Third-degree burns
A third-degree burn is a burn that destroys the surface of the skin and the tissue beneath.

Symptoms include:

Treatment of third-degree burns includes:

Third-degree burns always require medical attention. Large third-degree burns that cover more than 9% of the body are life-threatening. Third-degree burns on the face are life-threatening.

Electrical burns
Burns caused by electricity present a special problem. Because electricity goes through the body between two points, it does not cause visible burning except (maybe) at the entry and exit points.

If a victim is electrocuted, look for the following symptoms:

If any of those symptoms appear, assume the victim has life-threatening internal third-degree burns. Seek medical assistance immedately.
The Rule of Nines
The "rule of nines" is a fast way to estimate the amount of body area covered by a burn. If a serious (second- or third-degree) burn covers 9% of the body surface, it is life-threatening. The one exception is that a second- or third-degree burn on the face is life-threatening, regardless of size.

Note that all third-degree burns require medical attention; the rule of nines is only a guide to when the situation is an emergency.


©2005 Sam Clippinger / samc (at) troop50 (dot) org
Last updated: 12/9/2005