Third-degree burns are very serious injuries. Do not try to treat a third-degree burn at home. A third-degree burn needs immediate professional medical attention. You should, however, know what to do for a third-degree burn (i.e., first aid) until professional medical help arrives.

What is a third-degree burn?

Before we discuss what to do after a third-degree burn, we should list a few signs of third-degree so you can identify it. A person might have a third-degree burn if:

  • The skin is waxy, dry, black, white, brown, or yellow.
  • The person feels intense pain or no pain at all (third-degree burns can damage nerves).
  • The skin is swollen or inflamed.

If you are unsure of the degree of the burn, err on the side of caution and call for immediate medical help.

What should I do for a third-degree burn?

Remove Person from Imminent Danger

First things first, if the person is on fire, tell him/her to stop, drop, and roll. Wrap the person in a wool or cotton coat, blanket, or rug.

If the person is in a dangerous situation — a house fire, an industrial accident, an explosion, or some other critical situation — move him/her to avoid additional injuries.

Note: Keep the safety of the patient and yourself in mind when administering first aid. In the adrenaline of the moment, some rescuers suffer serious injury when trying to help others.

Call 911

Once you ensure the victim’s safety (and your own), call 911 or get the person to an emergency room. Since a person with a third-degree burn may be in critical condition, or may rapidly decline, it is usually best to call 911. The 911 operator can provide life-saving guidance and instructions until help arrives.

Administer First Aid

While you are waiting for paramedics to arrive, there are a few things you can do to help.

First, pour cool (not cold) water on the burn. If you are able, continue running cool water over the burn for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove or loosen any constricting items, if possible. Since burns tend to swell, constricting items can increase distress. Belts and jewelry often need to be removed. Burns can swell quickly, so you may need to do this before the professionals arrive.

Wrap the burn in clean gauze or a clean bed sheet if the area is too large for gauze.

Evaluate whether the patient needs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). If the patient is not breathing, tell the 911 operator. Ask for guidance on whether to initiate CPR. If you do not know how to perform CPR, the 911 operator should be able to walk you through the steps. (We highly recommend everybody take a course to learn CPR so they can use it in the event of an emergency.)

The 911 operator may also instruct you to elevate the burned area higher than the level of the heart. This will depend on the injury.

Major burns can cause a victim to go into shock. To avoid, lay the person flat (unless s/he has an injury that disallows movement) and cover him/her with a blanket. Elevate the feet 12 inches.

What should I NOT do for a third-degree burn victim?

There is a lot of information out there about what to do to help a person who has sustained a burn. Unfortunately, much of it can actually worsen a burn. We are here to clear up some of that misinformation. Never do any of the following when dealing with a person who has sustained a third-degree burn:

  • Never pour cold water on a burn, as it can cause tissue damage or cause the person to go into shock.
  • Never attempt to remove any jewelry or clothing that is stuck to the skin.
  • Never touch or blow on the burn. This can cause infection.
  • Never puncture a blister.
  • Never move a person unless you are sure s/he has not sustained a head, neck, back, or leg injury. This can worsen the injury.
  • Never directly touch a person who has sustained an electrical burn injury.
  • Never apply anything but cool water to a burn.

Check out our blog for more information on what to do after a burn — whether you need medical help, support groups, or legal assistance. If you need help finding a lawyer, call our lawyer referral specialists at 844-549-8774.