For minor burns:
- Cool the burn to help soothe the pain. Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pain eases. Or apply a clean towel dampened with cool tap water.
- Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area. Try to do this quickly and gently, before the area swells.
- Don't break small blisters (no bigger than your little fingernail). If blisters break, gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a nonstick gauze bandage.
- Apply moisturizer, aloe vera lotion or gel, or low-dose hydrocortisone cream, which may provide relief in some cases.
- If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
- Consider a tetanus shot. Make sure that your tetanus booster is up to date. Doctors recommend people get a tetanus shot at least every 10 years.
See your doctor if you develop large blisters. Large blisters are best removed, as they rarely will remain intact on their own. Also seek medical help if the burn covers a large area of the body or if you notice signs of infection, such as oozing from the wound and increased pain, redness and swelling.
Call 911 or emergency medical help for major burns. Until an emergency unit arrives, take these actions:
- Protect the burned person from further harm. If you can do so safely, make sure the person you're helping is not in contact with smoldering materials or exposed to smoke or heat. But don't remove burned clothing stuck to the skin.
- Check for signs of circulation. Look for breathing, coughing or movement. Begin CPR if needed.
- Remove jewelry, belts and other restrictive items, especially from around burned areas and the neck. Burned areas swell rapidly.
- Don't immerse large severe burns in cold water. Doing so could cause a serious loss of body heat (hypothermia) or a drop in blood pressure and decreased blood flow (shock).
- Elevate the burned area. Raise the wound above heart level, if possible.
- Cover the area of the burn. Use a cool, moist, bandage or a clean cloth.
Is it a minor burn or a major burn?
If it's not clear what level of care is needed, try to judge the extent of tissue damage, based on the following burn categories:
A first-degree burn is the least serious type, involving only the outer layer of skin. It may cause:
You can usually treat a first-degree burn as a minor burn. If it involves much of the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint, seek emergency medical attention.
A second-degree burn is more serious. It may cause:
- Red, white or splotchy skin
If the second-degree burn is no larger than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, treat it as a minor burn. If the burned area is larger or covers the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint, treat it as a major burn and get medical help immediately.
The most serious burns involve all layers of the skin and underlying fat. Muscle and even bone may be affected. Burned areas may be charred black or white. The person may experience:
Jan. 29, 2015
- Difficulty breathing
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Other toxic effects, if smoke inhalation also occurred
- Burns. The Merck Manual Professional Edition. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries_poisoning/burns/burns.html?qt=burns&alt=sh#v1112914. Accessed Oct. 23, 2014.
- What to do in a medical emergency. American College of Emergency Physicians. http://www.emergencycareforyou.org. Accessed Oct. 23, 2014.
- Subbarao I, et al., eds. American Medical Association Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care. New York, N.Y.: Random House; 2009.
- Mass casualties: Burns. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://emergency.cdc.gov/masscasualties/burns.asp. Accessed Oct. 23, 2014.
- Purdue GF, et al. Acute assessment and management of burn injuries. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2011;22:201.
- Kowalske KJ. Burn wound care. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2011;22:213.
- Millman M, et al., eds. Mayo Clinic Guide to Self-Care. 6th ed. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2010.
- Murphy F, et al. Treatment for burn blisters: Debride or leave intact? Emergency Nurse. 2014;22:24.
- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 24, 2014.