How to treat a burn - How to treat burns at home
5 Ways to Treat a Burn
Some burns can be treated at home, but others need a doctor’s care. Here’s how to tell the difference, plus tips to treat burn pain.
By Jennifer Acosta Scott
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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Burns are never pleasant to get, but burn remedies for most minor burns can be handled at home.
Your first step is to determine whether your burn is mild enough to forgo professional burn treatments. Consider these factors:
Degree of the burn.First-degree burns, which affect only the top layer of skin, cause pain, swelling, and redness. Second-degree burns, which go deeper, will also produce blisters. Third-degree burns, the most severe type, are characterized by white or charred skin and numbness. People with third-degree burns may need skin grafts, so medical assistance should always be sought immediately. For other burns, seek medical burn treatments if you’re at all in doubt.
Location of the burn.Burns to the eyes, mouth, hands, and genital areas should always be treated by medical professionals, even if they are mild.
Size of the burn.Burns that are the size of your palm or larger should always be treated by a doctor.
Unusual physical symptoms. Burns that are accompanied by fever, excessive swelling, puslike or bad-smelling drainage, or a blister filled with greenish or brownish fluid require medical attention. Burns that do not heal within two weeks should also be seen by a doctor.
Burn Treatments at Home
If you feel confident that your burn can be treated at home without medical intervention, follow these steps to help it heal:
Get it wet.Run cool (not cold) water over the burned area and hold a cold compress on it until the pain lessens. Ice is not recommended.
Cover it.Use a dry, sterile bandage or other dressing to shield the burned area from further harm. Antibiotic cream may be used before the bandage is applied.
Relieve the pain.Any remaining pain from the burn can be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. (Don’t give aspirin to kids younger than 12.)
Check on your tetanus immunization.Even minor burns can lead to tetanus, a serious condition that causes the muscles in the body to tighten painfully. Adults should be immunized for tetanus once every 10 years. If the burn patient’s tetanus vaccination is not up to date, he or she should get a booster at the doctor’s office.
Treat mild chemical burns. First remove any remaining chemical from the skin. If the chemicals are dry, brush them off with your hands while wearing gloves, and then place the victim in a cool shower for at least 15 minutes. Wet chemicals should be flushed with running water for at least 20 minutes.
Burn Remedies 'Don’ts'
There are some old wives’ tale burn treatments that can actually cause further harm and must be avoided. These include:
Applying butter.Despite centuries of suggestion, butter and other greasy substances can cause infection on burns. They may also make it harder for doctors to treat the burn later, if that's necessary.
Breaking blisters.This can also increase the chance of infection.
Removing stuck clothing.If clothing is trapped on the burned skin, do not try to remove it – get medical help.
Home burn remedies are often enough for minor mishaps, but remember to call your doctor whenever you’re in doubt or if the burn fails to heal.
Video: Burns: Classification and Treatment
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