How to Properly Treat a Burn

How to Properly Treat a Burn

September 16, 2023 / Comments (1)


Burns happen quickly, and you need to be prepared to respond appropriately. In a survival situation, you will be navigating through many new elements that will increase your risk for a burn. Access to medical facilities will be limited, if available at all. You should be ready to administer proper first aid for any level of burn injury.

There are varying degrees of severity with most burns. The lowest degree of a burn is called a first degree burn, and this level rarely causes infection or other problems that are associated with more severe burns. More serious burns are classified as 2nd and 3rd degree.

If you are in a survival situation or victim of a disaster, everything changes. You are most likely operating without electricity, so this means preparing food over an open flame and stumbling around in the dark. You’ll also be boiling water for drinking and using generators and gas-powered equipment, all which lead to an increased risk of injury.

Knowing how to recognize and treat burns is a medical skill that everyone in your family should have. Here’s a guide to help you get started:

Burns and Treatment

1st Degree Burn

A first-degree burn is the least serious, and affects only the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis. Signs of a first-degree burn include redness of the skin, slight swelling, and pain. A mild sunburn is usually a 1st degree burn.

These burns can be treated at home and they heal in about a week.

How to Treat:

  • Run the burn under cool water for 10 minutes
  • Pat dry with a clean, sanitary cloth or paper towel
  • Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick bandage

2nd Degree Burns

A second-degree burn is more serious, and it affects both the top layer (epidermis) but also the second layer, the dermis. This is more catastrophic in survival situations. These burns can range from mild to severe and in normal situations, and should be treated at home or by a doctor depending on the severity. 2nd-degree burns have intense redness, blisters and severe pain and swelling.

When SHTF, these burns must be treated by someone trained in first aid skills.

How to Treat:

  • Run cold water over the burn. Make sure the water is sanitary to avoid infection
  • Pat dry with cool, clean cloth
  • Avoid popping the blister. If it breaks, clean with warm water and a mild soap
  • Cover the burn with a dry, non-stick sterile cloth
  • Protect from the sunlight. Burns are more sensitive to direct sunlight
  • Apply topical antibiotic
  • Take Tylenol or Ibuprofen for pain

3rd Degree Burns

Third degree burns are much more serious as they can damage both layers of the skin and also the tissue, hair follicles, or sweat glands found under the skin. These can appear white, black or brown, or charred, and there might not be any pain as a result of nerve damage. These wounds heal with severe scarring and contracture.

These burns happen often in catastrophic situations. We preppers are ready to engage in these situations of intense chaos, and we may be the only ones who know what to do. People will look to us for help.

In the case of a 3rd degree burn, make sure the burning stops as quickly as possible.

How to Treat:

  • Raise the burnt area above heart level if possible and apply a damp, cool, clean cloth
  • Lie the burn victim flat, raise the feet, and keep the rest of the body warm to prevent shock
  • Provide extra fluids to maintain blood pressure and prevent shock
  • Medical attention and antibiotics are necessary if available

4th, 5th, and 6th-degree burns

These are very severe because the damage goes deep into the body. It can reach fat, muscles, joints and bones. People with these higher-degree burns need immediate medical attention. An injury of this degree may result in the loss of body parts.

Serious Burns:

  • Never attempt to self-treat a burn higher than a 3rd degree
  • Call 911 and wait for professional help
  • Stop the burning if possible
  • Remove clothing. If they can’t be removed, make sure the victim is not in contact with smoldering materials.
  • If the victim has stopped breathing or his/her airway is blocked, open the airway and perform rescue breathing and CPR.
  • When it comes to major burns in survival situations, the rules of triage come into play. Often burn victims cannot be moved, and when SHTF, some people believe the way to survive is to keep moving.
  • Serious burns to the head area will require a rapid response. Once the victim is fully stabilized, plan for evacuation to a medical facility or trained professional. This may be in a make-shift hospital.
  • If inhalation of hot fumes have burned the respiratory tract, get the victim to a trained professional immediately.
  • Burns around the face and neck or burned debris in the nasal or mouth cavity may signal airway damage, which will also require immediate evacuation.
  • Keep the victim calm and stable while continuing to monitor vitals including breathing, circulation, hydration, and body temperature.
  • Allow the victim to rest.
  • Preventing infection is crucial, so oral antibiotics can be given if you have some on hand.

Do Not:

  • Place ice on the burn because it reduces the circulation to the area
  • Use fats like butter or food products, this will trap heat in the burn.
  • Honey is the only exception, and only after you have stopped the burning. Honey improves healing time and prevents infection if antibiotics are not available. Of course, if you have A & D ointment on hand or other antibiotic ointments, these do help as well.
  • Apply cotton wool as it will stick to the wound and may cause infection

With your prepper skills, you are the person that people will look to for answers and leadership. You must be the person who is calm and confident in your knowledge, and this includes burn response. Know the difference between the degrees of burns. Medical personnel should always be consulted, if possible, with 3rd degree burns and higher. These degrees cause infection and even death.

When SHTF, burns are going to be more common and it’s good to be as prepared as possible. Have a first aid kit ready with materials to treat and dress burns. We have to be prepared for every situation.


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***Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Please read our full disclaimer.***

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 16, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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