BHealthy Blog

The Best Way to Treat a Burn

Dr. Devon Ballard, Sherwood Family Medical Center

Warmer weather is a time for the lake, campfires, fireworks, bonfires, cookouts, and fire pits! With all these fun activities, there is always the possibility of an unwelcome accident — burns. Here is some helpful information to keep your summer safe.

We’ve all had a burn, but it’s hard to know when it’s bad enough to see a doctor. Most burns can be treated right at home with the proper care. However, it’s extremely important to be able to recognize a more serious injury from just a minor burn. Serious burns improperly treated can lead to unnecessary permanent damage to the skin and nerves, and could result in possibly life-threatening infection and more.

How Bad is My Burn?

  • First-Degree Burns: The first layer is the epidermis, which keeps bacteria out and moisture in. If only this first layer is burned, the area will be dry, red, painful, but will not blister. Usually there is no long-term damage, besides possible minor scarring.
  • Second-Degree Burns: The second layer, the dermis, contains blood vessels, nerves, sweat glands, and hair follicles. Burns down to this layer will look red, possibly wet, swollen, painful, and will blister.
  • Third-Degree Burns: The third layer of skin is the subcutis. Burns down to this layer may also destroy underlying bones, muscles, and other tissue and must be treated by a medical professional. The burn site will be charred or white with no sensation of touch.

Treating Minor First and Second-Degree Burns

  • Cool the burn with cool, gentle, running water or a cold compress. This takes heat away from the burn area. Do this for as long as possible until it is no longer painful when water or compress is removed. Do not use high-pressure water or ice.
  • Use antibacterial ointment on the burn. This will relieve pain and lower the chances of infection. Do not use butter or anything oil-based. Do not pop any blisters that form, as this increases the chances for infection.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medication if needed. If it is not enough, seek professional help.
  • Use a bandage to protect the wound. Burns are prone to infection, so keep the wound covered when in public or outside. Make sure it and any clothes around the burn are loose-fitting, breathable cloth, such as light cottons.

Should I Go to the Emergency Room?

Some kinds of burns require specialized treatment. Go to the emergency room immediately in any of the following cases:

  • Third-degree burn
  • Burn caused by chemicals or electricity
  • Second degree burns larger than three inches in diameter
  • Burns on the face, perineum (groin, or genital area), burns that extend all the way around a part of the body, or burns to large areas of the hands or feet
  • Burns with an inhalation injury that may have burned the airways or lungs
  • Any of the following symptoms: dizziness, confusion, weakness, fever, chills, shivering, extreme pain

Watch the video for more information from Dr. Ballard:

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