First Aid: Burns
What causes burns?
- First-degree burns are red and painful. They swell a little. They turn white when you press on the skin. The skin over the burn may peel off after 1 or 2 days.
- Second-degree burns are thicker burns, are very painful and typically produce blisters on the skin. The skin is very red or splotchy, and may be very swollen.
- Third-degree burns cause damage to all layers of the skin. The burned skin looks white or charred. These burns may cause little or no pain because the nerves and tissue in the skin are damaged.
How long does it take for burns to heal?
- First-degree burns usually heal in 3 to 6 days.
- Second-degree burns usually heal in 2 to 3 weeks.
- Third-degree burns usually take a very long time to heal.
How are burns treated?
See a doctor if:
- A first- or second-degree burn covers an area larger than 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
- The burn is on your face, over a major joint (such as the knee or shoulder), on the hands, feet or genitals.
- The burn is a third-degree burn, which requires immediate medical attention.
Treat the burn with a skin care product that protects and heals skin, such as aloe vera cream or an antibiotic ointment. You can wrap a dry gauze bandage loosely around the burn. This will protect the area and keep the air off of it.
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol), ibuprofen (some brand names: Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (brand name: Aleve), to help with the pain. Ibuprofen and naproxen will also help with swelling.
Change the dressing every day. First, wash your hands with soap and water. Then gently wash the burn and put antibiotic ointment on it.If the burn area is small, a dressing may not be needed during the day. Check the burn every day for signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, swelling or pus. If you see any of these signs, see your doctor right away. To prevent infection, avoid breaking any blisters that form.
Burned skin itches as it heals. Keep your fingernails cut short and don’t scratch the burned skin. The burned area will be sensitive to sunlight for up to one year, so you should apply sunscreen to the area when you’re outside.
Is there anything I shouldn’t do when treating a burn?
What do I need to know about electrical and chemical burns?
A chemical burn should be flushed with large amounts of cool water. Take off any clothing or jewelry that has the chemical on it. Don’t put anything on the burned area, such as antibiotic ointment. This might start a chemical reaction that could make the burn worse. You can wrap the burn with dry, sterile gauze or a clean cloth. If you don’t know what to do, call 911 or your local poison control center, or see your doctor right away.