- Burns, caused by exposure to fire, hot liquids, chemicals, or electricity, can be categorized into three types: first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. Each type varies in severity and requires different levels of care.
- First aid for minor burns includes cooling the burn, removing tight items, applying burn cream, bandaging the burn, taking pain relievers, and not breaking any formed blisters. Major burns require immediate medical attention and steps include stopping the burning, not removing stuck clothing, checking for breathing, removing tight items, covering the burn, raising the burned area, watching for signs of shock, and seeking medical attention.
- Over-the-counter options for minor burn care include Silvadene, Neosporin, Bacitracin, and Aloe vera. Natural remedies such as Aloe vera, Vaseline, and cool compresses can also provide relief. However, remedies such as ice, butter and oil, egg whites, honey, toothpaste, and steroid creams should be avoided.
- To minimize and manage burn scars, keep the burn clean and moisturized, keep it covered with a bandage, and change the bandage daily. Urgent care should be sought for large or deep burns, burns covering significant portions of the body, or burns accompanied by other symptoms.
- Preventing burns is crucial and can be achieved through safe cooking practices, childproofing, electrical and fire safety precautions, and sunburn prevention and sunscreen usage.
Burns can happen to anyone at any time and can be caused by a variety of things—including being exposed to fire, hot liquids, chemicals, or electricity. Knowing how to treat burns can help reduce pain, prevent infection, promote healing, and know when to get emergency care.
First, it's important to understand the different types of burns. This will make it easier for you to decide if you can treat your burn at home or if you need to seek medical attention.
Types of Burns
Burns are categorized into three types based on their severity, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The three types of burn severities are: first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree.
- First-degree burns: These burns only affect the outermost layer of skin, causing redness, pain, and swelling.
- Second-degree burns: These burns affect the outer and underlying layers of skin. This causes blisters, severe pain, and swelling.
- Third-degree burns: These burns affect all layers of the skin, and can cause severe pain and scarring. Third-degree burns always require immediate medical attention.
Burns can also be classified based on their source, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
- Thermal burns: These burns are caused by exposure to heat sources such as flames, hot liquids, or steam.
- Chemical burns: These burns are caused by exposure to strong acids, alkalis, or other chemicals.
- Electrical burns: These burns are caused by exposure to electrical currents.
First Aid for Burns
If you or someone you know has suffered a burn injury, it is important to administer first aid quickly. The following are steps you should follow, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Treating Minor burns
- Stop the burning. The Mayo Clinic recommends holding the burned area under cool (not cold) running water for about 10 minutes. If the burn is on the face or another part of the body that isn’t easily held under running water, you can apply a cool, wet cloth until the pain eases. For a mouth burn from hot food or drink, they recommend putting a piece of ice in the mouth for a few minutes.
- Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area. You should do this quickly and gently—before the burned area begins to swell.
- Apply burn cream. After the burn is cooled, you can apply a burn cream for additional relief and to help promote healing. You can find over-the-counter burn creams and ointments at most drugstores or retail pharmacies.
- Keep the burn bandaged. The Mayo Clinic notes that you should cover the burned area with a clean bandage. Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin. Bandaging can help reduce pain and protect the burned area as it heals.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed. The Mayo Clinic recommends over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Don't break blisters. As the burn heals, blisters may form. These blisters help protect against infection, and should not be intentionally broken. If a blister does break, gently clean the area with water and apply an antibiotic ointment.
Treating Major Burns
- Stop the burning. Remove yourself from the source of the burn—if you are helping someone else, make sure you can help them safely. For electrical burns, you need to make sure the power source is off before you approach the burned person.
- Don't try to remove clothing stuck in the burn. This may cause skin and other tissue to tear away. Leave any burned clothing alone.
- Check for breathing. If needed, you should begin rescue breathing (if you know how) and notify 911.
- Remove jewelry, belts, and other tight items—especially from the burned area and the neck.
- Cover the burn. Loosely cover the area with gauze or a clean cloth until you can get emergency care.
- Raise the burned area. Lift the wound above heart level if possible.
- Watch for signs of shock. Signs of shock include cool, clammy skin, weak pulse, and shallow breathing.
- Seek medical attention. Major burns are a serious injury, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you or someone you know has a major burn, you should seek a doctor as soon as possible.
When to Call 911
Burns are serious, and major burns can be a life-threatening emergency. Here is when the Mayo Clinic recommends calling 911 or getting to an emergency room quickly:
- You or someone you know has burns that are deep (involving all layers of the skin)
- You or someone you know has burns that appear charred or have patches of white, brown, or black
- You or someone you know has burns that cover the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint, or encircle an arm or leg
- You or someone you know has inhaled smoke
Over-The-Counter Options for Minor Burn Care
There are several over-the-counter products that you can use to alleviate pain and promote the healing of burns. Here are some of the most common burn ointments and creams, that are available at many retail pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens:
- Silvadene or “silver sulfadiazine”
- Neosporin, Bacitracin
- Aloe vera
Natural Remedies for Burn Relief
There are several home remedies that can provide relief if you’re dealing with a minor burn. Here are a few natural remedies to try, according to GoodRX:
Aloe vera is a popular home remedy for burns because it can soothe and moisturize the skin—thus helping to reduce pain. There is also some evidence that suggests aloe vera may help promote healing.
Vaseline (also called petroleum jelly) is an ointment that can keep burned skin moisturized and provide a protective barrier.
Applying a cool compress to a minor burn can help relieve pain. You can soak a cloth or gauze in cool water and then place it over the burned area for around 10 minutes at a time.
Natural Remedies to Avoid
The internet is home to natural remedies for any ailment, but some may cause more harm than good. Here is a list of natural remedies that GoodRX warns against:
- Ice: Ice may cause more pain, instead you should stick to cool or room-temperature water when applying a cool compress.
- Butter and oil: Fats, like butter and oil, can trap heat in the skin and cause more pain. Additionally, they’re not sterile and can also introduce bacteria into your wound.
- Egg whites: Raw egg whites can carry dangerous bacteria like salmonella, which can lead to infection if introduced to a wound.
- Honey: There’s some evidence that honey can help heal minor burns. However, the consumer honey you have at home is not the same as medical-grade honey that can be used for burn treatment.
- Toothpaste: Like butter and oil, toothpaste isn’t sterile. It also contains compounds like fluoride and whiteners. These are great for your teeth but can irritate your damaged skin.
- Steroid creams: Over-the-counter steroid creams (like hydrocortisone) can actually interfere with wound healing. Instead, you should stick to creams that promote healing like bacitracin or Vaseline.
Tips on Minimizing and Managing Burn Scars
The Mayo Clinic notes that scarring occurs when the body produces collagen fibers to repair the damaged skin. The new tissue that forms is not identical to the original skin and can result in a different texture, color, and thickness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are several things you can do to minimize and manage burn scars, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. They recommend the following:
- Keep the burn clean and moisturized to promote healing and prevent infection.
- Keep the burn covered with a bandage to help protect it from bacteria and environmental exposures that can slow healing.
- Change the bandage daily to keep the burn area clean.
Additionally, there are some over-the-counter products that may help reduce scarring. These products are available at retail stores and drugstores.
When to go to Urgent Care for a Burn
Burns can be a serious injury that requires special treatment in some cases. Because of this, it is important to know when to go to urgent care for a burn. According to the NIH and Mayo Clinic, you should seek urgent care if:
- You have a large or deep burn - Larger than 3 inches in diameter or a burn that affects multiple layers of skin.
- You have a burn that covers a significant portion of your body - Or areas such as your face, hands, feet, or genitals.
- A burn that is accompanied by other symptoms - Like fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty breathing.
Home Safety Tips to Prevent Burns
When it comes to burns, the Cleveland Clinic notes that prevention is always the best treatment. Here are some tips from Children's Hospital of Colorado, Kids Health.org, and FamilyDoctor.org to help you prevent burns:
- Keep hot liquids and food away from the edges of tables and counters.
- Use a back burner when cooking on the stove.
- Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove.
- Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and in every bedroom.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
Safe Cooking Practices
- Use oven mitts or potholders when handling hot dishes or pots.
- Check the temperature of hot liquids before drinking or serving.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing when cooking.
- Don't leave cooking food unattended.
- Use safety gates to keep children away from hot appliances and stoves.
- Install tamper-resistant electrical outlets.
- Keep hot liquids and food out of reach of children.
- Store matches and lighters in a locked cabinet.
Electrical and Fire Safety Precautions
- Don't overload electrical outlets.
- Keep flammable materials away from heat sources.
- Have your home's electrical system inspected regularly.
- Don't use damaged electrical cords or appliances.
Sunburn Prevention and Sunscreen Usage
- Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and hats when out in the sun.
- Stay in the shade or indoors during peak sun hours.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
Frequently asked questions
What are the different types of burns and their severity?Burns are categorized into three types based on their severity: first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. First-degree burns only affect the outermost layer of skin, causing redness, pain, and swelling. Second-degree burns affect the outer and underlying layers of skin, causing blisters, severe pain, and swelling. Third-degree burns affect all layers of the skin, causing severe pain and scarring.
What are the different sources of burns?Burns can be classified based on their source. Thermal burns are caused by exposure to heat sources such as flames, hot liquids, or steam. Chemical burns are caused by exposure to strong acids, alkalis, or other chemicals. Electrical burns are caused by exposure to electrical currents.
How can minor burns be treated at home?Minor burns can be treated by stopping the burning using cool running water, removing rings or other tight items from the burned area, applying burn cream, keeping the burn bandaged, taking over-the-counter pain relievers if needed, and not breaking blisters that may form as the burn heals.
When should you seek medical attention for a burn?You should seek medical attention for burns that are deep, appear charred or have patches of white, brown, or black, cover the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint, or encircle an arm or leg, or if you or someone else has inhaled smoke.
What over-the-counter options are available for minor burn care?Over-the-counter options for minor burn care include Silvadene or “silver sulfadiazine”, Neosporin, Bacitracin, and Aloe vera.
What natural remedies can be used for burn relief?Natural remedies for burn relief include Aloe Vera, Vaseline, and cool compresses. However, some natural remedies like ice, butter and oil, egg whites, honey, toothpaste, and over-the-counter steroid creams should be avoided as they can cause more harm than good.
How can burn scars be minimized and managed?Burn scars can be minimized and managed by keeping the burn clean and moisturized, covering the burn with a bandage, and changing the bandage daily. There are also over-the-counter products that can help reduce scarring.
What are some home safety tips to prevent burns?Some home safety tips to prevent burns include keeping hot liquids and food away from the edges of tables and counters, using a back burner when cooking on the stove, turning pot handles away from the front of the stove, keeping matches and lighters out of the reach of children, installing smoke alarms on every level of your home and in every bedroom, and keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
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- Burns: Types, Symptoms, Treatments. (October 10, 2023) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12063-burns
- Burns: First Aid. (October 10, 2023) https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-burns/basics/art-20056649
- What to Put on a Burn: Helpful Home Remedies. (October 10, 2023) https://www.goodrx.com/conditions/wound-care/how-to-treat-a-burn-at-home
- Proper Wound Care: How to Minimize a Scar. (October 10, 2023) https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/wound-care-minimize-scars
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- Burn Prevention and Home Safety. (October 10, 2023) https://www.childrenscolorado.org/doctors-and-departments/departments/burn-center/burn-prevention/
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