If you've ever felt the sting of a hot curling iron or a sizzling barbecue grill, you know how much these relatively minor burns hurt. You probably ran cold water on the singed area or applied some ice — we'll tell you why that's not a good idea — and went about your merry way. But would you know what to do for a more serious burn?
First, it's helpful to have an awareness of the degree of injury and whether it's a minor burn (one that can be treated at home) or a major burn (one that needs medical attention). Once you've nailed that, treatment is pretty straightforward.
If the skin is unbroken:
- Apply cool (not cold or ice) water for at least 5 minutes by running water over the burn, soaking it in a water bath or applying a clean, wet towel.
- Use a moisturizing lotion, such as aloe vera, once the skin has cooled.
- Protect the burn from pressure and friction and cover with a clean, dry cotton dressing.
- Relieve pain and swelling with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Update your tetanus immunization, as even minor burns can lead to this dangerous bacterial infection.
Minor burns will usually mend without further treatment, but if it hasn't healed in two weeks or is accompanied by other symptoms, call your doctor or head to your local ER.
Major burns require immediate medical care at an ER or burn center; call 911 if you can't transport the burn victim safely.
- Remove the cause of the burn (stop, drop and roll) but don't touch anyone who may have received an electrical burn. Use a nonmetallic object to move the person away from exposed wires.
- Check for breathing and administer CPR if needed.
- Check for signs of shock.
- Protect the burn area from pressure and friction and wrap in a thick, clean, dry cotton cloth; use a clean sheet if the burn area is large.
- Raise the body part that is burned above the level of the heart.
5 Things You Should Never Do To a Major Burn
Matthew Carrick, MD, trauma medical director at Medical CityPlano, discusses what not to do if you are burned.
Don't use ice, ice water or even very cold water. According to Dr. Carrick, severe burns shouldn't be treated with ice or ice water because this can further damage the tissue. The best thing to do is cover the burn with a clean towel or sheet and head to the emergency room as quickly as possible for medical evaluation.
Don't treat an open burn with water. Unless someone's on fire and your only option is to drench them to put out the flames (not on grease fires!), exposing an open burn wound to water can introduce bacteria.
Don't apply butter, ointments or sprays. Butter and other greasy substances may cause infections and will have to be removed by the ER doc anyway, making it harder to treat the wound.
Don't remove clothing that is stuck to the skin or try to peel away dead or blistered skin. This can cause further damage and create open wounds that are susceptible to infection.
Don't give a severely burned person anything by mouth or place a pillow under someone's head if there is an airway burn. This can cause an airway obstruction.
Burns can be serious and all but the most minor should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Medical City Plano Burn & Reconstructive Center of Texas can assess your situation and provide high-level burn care if needed.
If you need burn care, call (855) 863-9595.
Get fast, emergency help for burns and other injuries at one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.