A burn can be a horrible experience. You can get a burn on your skin that can be minor or debilitating. Burns have different classifications to identify the severity of the burn. Burns also range from simple; everyday type burns such as a sunburn all the way up to extensive skin and tissue damage requiring medical attention and possibly even surgery.
Learn how to identify the type of burn in this article. We will cover the main stages of a burn, what to look for to know what classification the burn is, and home remedies for the less severe classifications. If you want to know how to treat a burn, you are in the right place.
What is a Burn?
By definition, a burn is damage to the skin or underlying tissue caused by exposure to heat or flame. Burns can happen at any time and almost anywhere. Exposure burns, touch burns, and the flame burns all have a varied effect on our skin and tissue.
Burns are often painful and can become infected just like any other skin wound. Learning how to treat a burn and reduce the chances of swelling, irritation, and infection are crucial.
Burns have three main classification stages: first, second and third degree. The higher the degree, the more severe the burn. Everything from getting a mild sunburn to being burned by fire can be classified in one of the three categories.
Each category has a different treatment approach to care, treat and prevent further damage. Most burns that occur around the home can be treated at home. Some may require further investigation by a medical professional, though.
If you are ever in doubt as to the extent of the damage or classification of the burn, you should see a doctor right away. Burns are a wound to the skin and tissue and shouldn’t be left untreated. Damage can continue long after the cause of the burn is removed, resulting in complications even days after exposure.
How to treat a burn depends on the degree of the burn.
First Degree Burns
First degree burns are the least severe type of burn. It doesn’t mean they don’t hurt or can’t become infected. However, they are treated easily and rarely require the assistance of a doctor or specialist.
You should seek immediate medical help for any of the following conditions:
- The burn has penetrated through each layer of skin.
- The victim is an elderly or infant person.
- The burn has charred the skin resulting in black or brown patches.
- The burn itself happened on the feet, the hands, the face or the genitals of the victim.
Treatment of these types of burns, or in those specific victims should not be treated at home. Serious and even life-threatening situations can occur as a result of the burn and should be examined by a doctor immediately. It doesn’t matter how minor the burn appears to be, always get them checked out by a professional.
For first degree burns, you need to stop the burning immediately. Put out the flame, remove the hot object or remove the victim from the sun.
Because burns can swell at a rapid pace, you should remove all restrictive items. This includes clothing, jewelry, watches, etc.
If the clothing or articles are stuck to the skin, do not attempt to remove them. Instead, cut the material or cloth away where it is not stuck, leaving only the stuck portion behind for now.
Next, you need to cool the burn. Ice packs and cold water should not be used. Submerge the affected area in cool water, not cold, for 15 to 20 minutes. This will prevent the burn from spreading. Ice and cold can cause reverse damage which should be avoided at all costs.
If you cannot submerge the area or don’t have running water, cool compresses can be used.
After the burn has been cooled, you will need to administer first aid. Burning skin can cause irritations. Care should be taken to try not to break the skin by scratching, itching or tearing.
Cover the area with a clean, dry cloth such as gauze or sterile wrap. Do not constrict blood flow or wrap the area too tight. Doing so can prevent healing. You should also avoid using adhesive bandages as they can tear the burn when removed. If needed, you can use medical grade tape to hold the bandage in place, taking care not to apply the tape to the affected skin.
Keep in mind what to put on a wound such as a burn. When dealing with a burn, you only want to use cool, not cold, water. Do not use ointments, creams or butter on the burn. Some home remedies state that these can remove the pain and swelling. However, they are more likely to cause infection.
Clean, cool water and a dry bandage are all that is needed for first degree burns.
If larger (greater than 2 inches) blisters develop, or if the victim has a fever, shows signs of infection or the burned area oozes, seek a medical professional right away.
Second Degree Burns
Second-degree burns are more severe than first degree burns and are usually the result of contact burning, such as touching a hot oven, or a grill. They can also be caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight or flames.
Treating a second-degree burn is similar to that of a first-degree burn. However, you also need to treat to prevent shock.
First, remove the source of the burn, put out the flames or instruct the victim to stop, drop and roll to put out the fire that is on them.
Remove restrictive clothing, belts, watches or jewelry in the affected area. Again, if clothing is stuck to the burned area, cut around the portions that are stuck and remove the rest.
Use cool water to stop the burning. 15 to 20 minutes of cool water, either using compresses or submerged will be enough to stop the spread of the burned area. Never use ice or cold water. This can cause shock, tissue damage or increase pain and lower body temperature.
Wrap the burned area in a loose layer of clean, sterile gauze or pads and use medical tape if necessary.
Treating for shock should be done as soon as possible after the burned area is treated. If discomfort or injury prevent the next steps, do not force it.
- Lay the victim down on their back, supporting the head with a pillow or similar.
- Raise the feet about a foot off the ground.
- Lift and support the burned area above the level of the heart.
- Cover the victim with a blanket.
If you suspect the victim has gone into shock, or if the burn displays extreme blistering, oozing or if the victim has a fever, is dizzy or loses consciousness, call for immediate medical attention.
As with first degree burns, never use lotions, ointments, creams or butter on the burned area. If pain persists, you can use over the counter drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen. These are known by brand names such as Motrin, Tylenol and Aleve, respectively.
Third Degree Burns
Third-degree burns are the most severe burns and are usually the result of being caught on fire or prolonged exposure to extreme heat by contact (falling on a hot grill, for example).
The first step, as always, is to remove the source of the burn immediately. If the victim is on fire get them to stop, drop and roll to put out the flames, or cover and smother with a blanket until the flames are extinguished.
Take great care of the victim. Shock and further injury are highly possible at every stage of treatment.
Once the source of the burn has been removed, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency response EMTs. Third-degree burns cannot be treated at home and will require the immediate care of a medical professional.
The steps you do need to take though can help until medical assistance arrives. Do not submerge the burned area in water at all. Never use ointments, creams, lotions or butter. Do not put anything on the bun at all.
Follow the treatment from shock from the second-degree burn instructions: Lay the victim flat, if possible (do not force if injury or discomfort not associated with the burn are present). Elevate the feet a foot off the ground and cover the victim with a blanket.
If the fingers or toes have been burned separate them individually with clean and sterile gauze or pads.
Medical doctors and emergency response will examine the burned area and administer drugs, clean the wounds and apply dressings once they arrive. This should not be attempted for third-degree burns by anyone other than trained professionals.
(Some say aloe vera can be used to treat burns. Here’s our post on the Benefits of Aloe.)