First Aid for Burns

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideCuts and Scrapes: Caring for Wounds in Pictures

Cuts and Scrapes: Caring for Wounds in Pictures

What is the significance of the amount of body area burned?

In addition to the depth of the burn, the total surface area of the burn is significant. Burns are measured as a percentage of total body area affected. The "rule of nines" is often used, though this measurement is adjusted for infants and children. This calculation is based upon the fact that the surface area of the following parts of an adult body each correspond to approximately 9% of total (and the total body area of 100% is achieved):

  • Head = 9%
  • Chest (front) = 9%
  • Abdomen (front) = 9%
  • Upper/mid/low back and buttocks = 18%
  • Each arm = 9%
  • Each palm = 1%
  • Groin = 1%
  • Each leg = 18% total (front = 9%, back = 9%)

As an example, if both legs (18% x 2 = 36%), the groin (1%) and the front chest and abdomen were burned, this would involve 55% of the body.

Picture of the Rule of Nines - Burns on an Adult
Picture of the Rule of Nines - Burns on an Adult

Only second and third degree burn areas are added together to measure total body burn area. While first degree burns are painful, the skin integrity is intact and it is able to do its job with fluid and temperature maintenance.

If more than15%-20% of the body is involved in a burn, significant fluid may be lost. Shock may occur if inadequate fluid is not provided intravenously. As the percentage of burn surface area increases, the risk of death increases as well. Patients with burns involving less than 20% of their body should do well, but those with burns involving greater than 50% have a significant mortality risk, depending upon a variety of factors, including underlying medical conditions and age.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/25/2016

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