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How to Treat Burns

Burns are defined as tissue damage usually caused by heat, radiation, overexposure to the sun, chemical or electrical contact.

Like most types of wounds, treatment for burns depends on several factors such as its location as well as its severity.

Small scalds and sunburns can usually be treated at home while more severe types like deep and widespread burns will require immediate medical attention.


Before we proceed to treatment, it’s important to understand the severity levels of burns because this will dictate the course of action you should take.

Generally speaking, 1st-degree burns can be treated at home while 2nd and 3rd-degree burns will need professional medical help.

1st-degree burns - is a minor burn that only affects the outer layer of the skin and may cause pain and redness.

2nd-degree burns - is a type of burn that affects not just the outer layer but also the second layer of the skin. 2nd-degree burns can result in swelling as well as red, white, or splotchy skin. Unlike 1st-degree burns, this type of burn can be more painful and cause blisters and scarring (if it’s deeper).

3rd-degree burns - the worst of the three types, this burn affects even the fat layer underneath the skin. It can destroy nerves, cause numbness, and may look leathery black, brown, or white.

When Should You See a Doctor

Medical assistance from a nurse or a doctor is required if the burn is characterized by the following:

  • Deep and affects all layers of the skin including the deeper tissues

  • Causes the skin to look leathery

  • Caused by chemicals or electricity

  • Appears charred and or have patches of black, brown or white

  • Located in the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or any major joint or large area of the body

  • Difficulty breathing

It would be beneficial to apply first aid treatment even for emergency cases while on the way to the hospital.

As mentioned, minor burns can usually be treated at home while more severe ones will require medical assistance. Severe burns may require the patient to be brought to specialized burn centers where they skin grafts (if needed) to cover large wounds.

How to Treat Minor Burns

If you or a family member experience minor burns, below are some of the steps you can take to treat the wound.

1. Cool the burned area down by holding it under cool running water or applying a wet compress until the pain is reduced. Remember, we only need cool and not cold so never use ice under any circumstances because doing so can lead to further damage.

2. Quickly but gently remove any body accessories like rings or watches before the affected areas start to swell.

3. Apply lotion on the burned area once the wound has completely cooled. Try to use one that contains aloe vera or use a moisturizer as much as possible because they help prevent drying while also providing relief.

4. Cover the burn with a bandage or a clean gauze but make sure it’s not too tightly wrapped to avoid pressure on the burned area. The bandage will help reduce the pain and keep air off the burned skin.

5. If the pain becomes unbearable, over-the-counter meds such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve the pain.

6. As a precaution, you may also consider getting a tetanus shot.

7. Should you see any blisters, try not to break them because they protect the burn from further infection. If they do break, clean them up with water then apply an antibiotic ointment if possible unless you are allergic to it.

Final Thoughts

Proper wound care is essential for burns especially if they are deep enough to affect the deeper layers of the skin. If you are a nurse who wants to learn more about proper wound care practices, consider getting wound care certified so you can improve your skills and help your patients heal faster.

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