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Treating Burn Injuries


Whether you’re at work, cooking a meal for your family, or enjoying the great outdoors; lots of life’s activities present situations where burn injuries are possible. A thermal (heat) burn is among the most common household injuries, especially in children.

This week is National Burn Awareness Week, which serves as a perfect opportunity to educate and remind everyone of the appropriate ways to treat burn injuries…and when to seek medical help.

Burn injuries range in level of severity from first to third degree burns. The type of treatment you receive depends on the level of burn you’ve sustained.

Types of Burns

First Degree Burn: A superficial burn to the top layer of skin. Symptoms of a first degree burn include redness, minor swelling, and pain. This type of burn can typically be treated at home.

Second Degree Burn: A more serious burn injury affecting deeper layers of skin. Symptoms of a second degree burn are similar to that of a first degree burn, but also include blistering. If the blisters are larger in size, or cover a large area of the body, you should seek medical attention.

Third Degree Burn: A very serious burn injury affecting all layers of skin. Symptoms of a third degree burn include a deep burn accompanied by white or charred skin. The burned area typically feels numb and requires immediate medical attention.

Treating Burns

Treatment for First Degree Burns:

Minor burns can often be treated at home, and the sooner you treat minor burns the faster they heal. If a minor burn occurs:

  • Soak the wound in cool water for five minutes or longer
  • Take the recommended dosage of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief
  • To sooth the skin, apply aloe gel or cream
  • Apply antibiotic ointment and loose gauze to protect the burned area

Treatment for Second Degree Burns:

More serious burns may require medical attention to reduce the risk of infection or further damage to the skin. These burns typically blister and can take several weeks to heal. Severe blistering, discolored tissue, or signs of infection mean it’s time to see your doctor.

For both first and second degree burns, home treatment is an option; however you’ll want to call your healthcare provider if:

  • Severe pain persists
  • You notice signs of infection (pus, increased pain/tenderness, or red streaking)
  • There is skin disruption with discolored tissue present
  • Your condition worsens

Treatment for Third Degree Burns:

Call 911 immediately! A third degree burn is the most serious form of thermal burn. This level of burn extends through all layers of the skin and can even reach your bloodstream, major organs, and bones. A burn this severe cannot be treated at home and requires immediate medical attention.

When to Call 911

According to the American Red Cross, you should call 911 if the burned person has:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Burns covering more than one body part or a large surface area
  • Suspected burns to their airway (burns to the mouth and nose)
  • Burns to the head, neck, hands, feet, or genitals
  • A burn caused by chemicals, explosions, or electricity

Things to Keep In Mind

Burns can swell very quickly, so try to remove any jewelry or clothing located near the site of the burn. If clothing appears to be stuck to the burn site, do not attempt to remove it on your own. You can carefully cut around the stuck fabric to remove excess loose fabric.

Use cool water versus ice. Ice can sometimes make the skin damage worse.

Never use a cotton ball to apply ointment to a burn, as the small fibers can adhere to the burn site increasing your risk of infection.

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