You can treat first-degree burns and small second-degree burns at home using over-the-counter products or aloe. Minor burns usually resolve within a few weeks.
Seek emergency treatment for burns that are moderate, severe, or widespread — or if the burns involve your hands, feet, groin or face.
Depending on the severity of your burn, you may require:
- Intravenous (IV) fluids. Doctors deliver fluids continuously through a vein (intravenously) to prevent dehydration and organ failure.
- Pain relievers. Healing burns can be incredibly painful. In many cases, morphine is required — particularly during dressing changes. Anti-anxiety medications may also be helpful.
- Burn creams. A variety of products can be applied to the burn to help keep it moist, reduce pain, prevent infection and speed healing.
- Antibiotics. If you develop an infection, you may need intravenous antibiotics.
- Tetanus shot. Your doctor might recommend a tetanus shot after a burn injury.
If the burned area is large, especially if it covers any joints, you may need physical therapy exercises designed to stretch the skin so the joints can remain flexible. Other types of exercises can improve muscle strength and coordination.
Surgical and other procedures
In some cases, you may need one or more of the following procedures:
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- Breathing assistance. If you've been burned on the face or neck, your throat may swell shut. If that appears likely, your doctor may insert a tube down your windpipe (trachea) to keep oxygen supplied to your lungs.
- Tube feeding. Your metabolism goes into overdrive when your body starts trying to heal your burns. To provide adequate nutrition for this task, a feeding tube may be threaded through your nose to your stomach.
- Decompression. If a burn scab (eschar) goes completely around a limb, it can tighten and cut off the blood circulation. An eschar that goes completely around the chest can make it difficult to breathe. Cutting the eschar in several places can relieve this pressure.
- Skin grafts. Sections of your own healthy skin are needed to replace the scar tissue caused by deep burns. Donor skin from cadavers or pigs can be used as a temporary solution.
- Reconstruction. Plastic surgeons can improve the appearance of burn scars and increase the flexibility of joints affected by scarring.
- Wolff K, et al. Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=45. Accessed June 6, 2012.
- Purdue GF, et al. Acute assessment and management of burn injuries. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2011;22:201.
- Marx JA, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05472-0..X0001-1--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05472-0&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed June 6, 2012.
- Kowalske KJ. Burn wound care. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2011;22:213.
- Burns. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries_poisoning/burns/burns.html?qt=burns&alt=sh. Accessed June 6, 2012.
- Goldman L, et al. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/191371208-2/0/1492/0.html#. Accessed June 7, 2012.
- Claypool DW (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 27, 2012.
- Morgan ED, et al. Treatment of minor thermal burns. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed June 8, 2012.
- Leon-Villapalos J, et al. Principles of burn reconstruction: Overview of surgical procedures. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed June 8, 2012.
- SOAR: Survivors offering assistance in recovery. Phoenix Society. http://www.phoenix-society.org/programs/soar. Accessed June 8, 2012.
- Peck MD. Prevention of fire and burn injuries. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed June 8, 2012.