Burns can be caused by:

  • Heat or flame, such as:
    • Hot foods, drinks, water, oil, or grease
    • Direct heat such as stoves, heaters, or curling irons
    • Direct flame
    • Fireworks
  • Chemicals, such as:
    • Cleaning products
    • Battery fluid
    • Pool chemicals
    • Drain cleaners
  • Sunlight (sunburns) or tanning beds
  • Electricity (electrical burn)
  • Radiation—nuclear, x-rays, or radiation treatments for cancer

Risk Factors

Burns are more common in males, children, and older adults. Other things that raise the risk are:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Illegal drug use
  • Absent or non-working smoke detectors
  • Older housing
  • Not watching children closely
  • Using tap water hotter than 120°F (48.8°C)



Burn symptoms and signs vary. It depends on the type of burn.

First Degree Burn

  • Burned area turns red and is painful
  • The area turns white when pressed
  • There may be swelling but no blistering

Second Degree Burn

  • Blisters
  • The area is moist, red, and weeping—or waxy dry
  • The area may turn white when pressed
  • Usually painful to air and temperature

Third and Fourth Degree Burn

  • Skin can appear waxy white, leathery gray—or charred and blackened
  • May feel deep pressure but no pain


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Testing is based on how severe the burn is. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging—to see how deep the burn is, or if it has affected the inside of the body
  • ECG—for electrical burns



The goals of treatment are to reduce damage to the skin and tissues, and to prevent infection. Burns needs to be treated right away. How they are treated depends on their size and how severe they are.

Minor burns are treated with first aid measures—such as cooling and covering the burn.

Serious burns need medical help right away. Treatment may include:

  • CPR and first aid
  • Hospitalization
  • Airway and breathing support—with oxygen or mechanical ventilation
  • Pain medicines
  • Ointments and dressings—to promote healing and prevent infection
  • IV fluids—to replace those lost from the burn
  • Surgery, such as skin grafts—if burns are unlikely to heal
  • Physical therapy—if burns are large


Most burns are from accidents. To reduce the risk:

  • Watch children and protect them from hazards, such as:
    • Stove burners, hot water, hot water faucets, and hot food and drinks
    • Matches, lighters, candles, cigarettes
    • Gas, chemicals, and firecrackers
    • Electric cords and outlets
  • Use smoke detectors and make sure they work

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.