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Treat a Burn in the Wilderness

Burns are among the most painful and dangerous of soft tissue injuries. Quick and thorough treatment is of the essence.


1. Remove the source of the burn: For flame burns, stop, drop and roll; for wet chemical burns, flush the area with water for 20 minutes; for dry chemical burns, brush off the dry chemicals.
2. Remove any clothing and jewelry, since they retain heat and can exacerbate burning.
3. Check airway, breathing and circulation. Treat with rescue breathing and/or CPR as necessary.
4. Cool the burn with cold (but warmer than ice-cold) water, or with cloths dampened with cold water
5. Assess the depth and extent of the burn.
6. Elevate the burn site above the heart
7. Have the injured person drink as much as possible, unless he or she is unconscious and/or showing signs of shock
8. Clean the burn area gently with disinfected lukewarm water and mild soap. Pat dry, and flush any debris out with an irrigation syringe. Pat dry again.
9. Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to the burn site with a cotton swab
10. Cover the burn with dry, sterile gauze.
11. Give ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.
12. Evacuate unless only minor superficial burns are involved.
13. Re-dress the burn twice a day on the way out: Remove the dressing (which may require soaking it first), rewash the burn site, reapply antibiotic ointment and re-dress with gauze


  • The burn dressing should be breathable, not occlusive.
  • Monitor for shock and be ready to treat it.
  • Be sure not to cool more than 10 percent of the body surface at a time, since this may cause hypothermia.
  • Keep the dressing dry. Wetness will allow bacteria to penetrate to the burn and cause infection.


  • Don't apply ice to the skin. This could cause frostbite as well as reduce needed circulation to the site.
  • Don't try to remove substances that will pull off skin with them, such as melted plastic or tar.
  • This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.

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