How To Treat Burns
Most burns are not medical emergencies and can be treated easily. Burns that cause the skin to be red, painful and swell are called superficial burns. Usually, they are caused by heat, such as fire, steam, hot surfaces or a hot liquid.
1. Stop Burning Immediately
- Put out the fire or stop the person’s contact with hot liquid, steam, or other material.
- Help the person “stop, drop, and roll” to smother flames.
- Remove smoldering material from the person.
- Remove hot or burned clothing. If clothing sticks to skin, cut or tear around it.
2. Remove Constrictive Clothing Immediately
- Take off jewelry, belts, and tight clothing. Burns can swell quickly.
Then take the following steps:
For First-Degree Burns (Affecting Top Layer of Skin)
1. Cool Burn
- Hold burned skin under cool (not cold) running water or immerse in cool water until the pain subsides.
- Use compresses if running water isn’t available.
2. Protect Burn
- Cover with sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth.
- Do not apply butter or ointments, which can cause infection.
3. Treat Pain
- Give over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen ( Advil, Motrin ), acetaminophen (Tylenol ), or naproxen (Aleve).
4. When to See a Doctor
Seek medical help if:
- You see signs of infection, like increased pain, redness, swelling, fever, or oozing.
- The person needs tetanus or booster shot, depending on the date of the last injection. The tetanus booster should be given every 10 years.
- The burn blister is larger than two inches or oozes.
- Redness and pain last more than a few hours.
- Pain worsens.
The Treatment for Superficial Burns caused by Heat
- 1) Stop the burning! Get the person away from the source of the burn.
- 2) Use plenty of cold running water to help control pain.
- 3) Cover the burn loosely with sterile dressing. This is not like bandaging for bleeding – keep it loose.
Most of the time, it’s that simple. But sometimes a burn is more severe.
Call 911 or get to a hospital immediately for these conditions
- 1) Skin that is burned to a brown or black color or if the tissue underneath appears to be white.
- 2) Burns to the airway. Burns around the mouth or nose can be very serious. It may be accompanied by trouble breathing.
- 3) Burns from electricity and explosions. These types of burns carry additional risks such as airway and cardiac damage.
For chemical burns, run an excessive amount of water over the burned area. The idea is to flush the chemical off the skin. However, if you have any doubt about your ability to treat a chemical burn, call 911 or seek professional medical help immediately.
Burns that cause open weeping blisters can be treated at home if the burned area is very small. The general rule is that if the burn is bigger than a quarter on a child and bigger than a silver dollar on an adult, seek medical help.
Additional Considerations For Burns
- Burns to the hands, feet, genitals, head, and neck are the most serious.
- Children younger than 5 and people over 60 are more susceptible to the effects of burns.
- If burn blisters, don’t try to drain the blister. This increases your chance of infection.
- Do not try to remove clothes that are burned into the skin.
- There is no need to put ointments on a burn unless a healthcare provider tells you to do so.
You can apply ice to a small superficial burn to cool the area for pain management, but do not put the ice directly on the skin. Use a barrier between the ice and your skin. Do not use ice for more than 10 minutes continuously. Skin tissue can be damaged by excessive treatment with ice. It is also possible to lower a person’s body temperature too much with excessive ice treatment.
Do not put butter on a burn. It’s an old home remedy that is a bad idea. Yes, it can reduce pain because the burn isn’t exposed to air, but the salt desiccates the burned tissues. Butter also retains heat in tissues and can make the burn worse.
Consider taking an American Heart Association or Red Cross first aid class to learn more about burns and to have a chance to practice treating burns.