Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Burns: Taking Care of Burns
What causes burns?
You can get burned by heat and fire, radiation, sunlight, electricity or chemicals. There are 3 degrees of burns:
How long does it take for burns to heal?
How are burns treated?
The treatment depends on what kind of burn you have. It is not good to put butter, oil, ice or ice water on burns. This might cause more damage to the skin.
Superficial burn
Soak the burn in cool water. Then treat it with a skin care product like aloe vera cream or an antibiotic ointment. To protect the burned area, you can put a dry gauze bandage over the burn. Take acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) to help with the pain.
If a first- or second-degree burn covers a large area or is on your face, hands, feet or genitals, you should see a doctor right away.
Superficial partial-thickness or deep partial-thickness burn
Soak the burn in cool water for 15 minutes. If the burned area is small, put cool, clean, wet cloths on the burn for a few minutes every day. Then put on an antibiotic cream or other creams or ointments prescribed by your doctor. Cover the burn with a nonstick dressing (for example, Telfa) and hold the dressing in place with gauze or tape. Check the burn every day for signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, swelling or pus. If you see any of these signs, go to your doctor right away. To prevent infection, avoid breaking blisters. 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. Make sure you are up-to-date on tetanus shots (also called vaccines). If you aren't sure, check with your doctor's office. 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.
Full-thickness burns
If you get a bad burn, you should see your doctor or go to the hospital right away. Don't take off any clothing that is stuck to the burn. Don't soak the burn in water. Take off other clothing and jewelry near the burn area.
What do I need to know about electrical and chemical burns?
A person with an electrical burn (for example, from a power line) should go to the hospital right away. Electrical burns often cause serious injury inside the body. This injury may not show on the skin. A chemical burn should be washed with large amounts of water. Take off any clothing that has the chemical on it. Don't put anything on the burn area. This might start a chemical reaction that could make the burn worse. If you don't know what to do, call your local poison control center or see your doctor right away.