How to treat burns and/or scalds

If this is an emergency, please call 000 immediately.

What is a burn and scald?

If the burn is larger than a 20 cent piece, or deep, seek medical aid.

Burns and scalds are damage to the skin caused by heat. A burn is caused by dry heat and a scald is caused by something wet and hot. Burns can also affect the respiratory system and the eyes.

This guide is regularly updated and aligns with the current edition of Australian First Aid (4th edition, 7/2011)

Signs and Symptoms

Superficial burns

The area is:

  • Red
  • Very painful
  • Blistered

Deep burns

The area is:

  • Mottled red and white
  • Dark red or pale yellow
  • Painful
  • Blistered

Full thickness burns

The area:

  • Is white or charred
  • Feels dry and leathery
  • Because the nerves are destroyed, the pain will not be as great as in a superficial burn.

What to do

If the patient’s clothing is on fire

Stop the patient from moving around.


Drop the patient to the ground and cover or wrap them in a blanket or similar, if available.

Roll the patient along the ground until the flames are extinguished.


Manage the burn.


For all burns



If the burn is severe or if it involves the airway, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.


As soon as possible, hold the burnt area under cool running water for 20 minutes.


Remove any clothing and jewellery from the burnt area, unless they are stuck to the burn.

Cover the burn with a light, loose nonstick dressing, preferably clean, dry, non-fluffy material (eg plastic cling film).

Continue to check the patient for shock, and treat if necessary.



Burn or scalds fact sheet

DRSABCD action plan

Related advice


A ‘cold’ burn is actually tissue damage from extreme cold, thus treatment is different from thermal burns.

DRSABCD Action Plan

The DRSABCD Action Plan is the first step when providing first aid. Use this to assess the immediate situation.

Smoke and embers in your eyes

Possible injuries resulting from exposure to fires and smoke include abrasions to the cornea, conjunctivitis and ember burns to the eyelids, eyeballs and face.

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