The Basics of Treating Burns


Summertime is a time bursting with warm memories: catching sun at the lake, campfires, fireworks, bonfires, cookouts, and fire pits! With all these fun activities there is always the possibility of another warm, but unwelcomed memory: burns.

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.


Assess the Burn’s Severity

Skin has three layers and the severity of a burn depends on how many layers deep have been burned as well as how large of an area was burned. Smaller burns down to only the first or second layers on skin can usually be treated without a medical professional.

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 possibly minor scaring.

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.


When to 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
  • Or if the individual is expressing any of the following: dizziness, confusion, weakness, fever, chills, shivering, extreme pain


How to Treat Minor First and Second-Degree Burns

  • Get away from heat sources. Longer exposure could make the burn even more severe.
  • Remove any clothing around the affected area. Fabric can trap heat and worsen the burn.
  • 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 like light cottons.