This is the first in a series of blog posts designed to serve as a quick reference guide. Each will focus on a sudden injury or illness designed to help you make an informed decision on a plan of action when the unexpected happens. Print it out or bookmark this post for future reference!
How severe is the burn?
The best indicator of the severity of a burn isn’t pain. With more severe burns, underlying nerve endings are more likely to die and therefore the pain level is lower. Instead, the severity of a burn depends on its size and how deep the damage goes.
- First-degree burns only affect the top layer of skin. The skin may turn red, swell, or be painful.
- Second-degree burns also affect the thick lower level of skin. The skin will blister in addition to turn red, usually swell, and usually be painful.
- Third-degree burns penetrate the entire thickness of the skin, permanently destroying it and the tissue underneath. The skin will blister and will turn dry and leathery, perhaps with white, brown, or black patches. The burn will only be painful with deep pressure.
When should I go to the ER?
- The burn meets the criteria of a third-degree burn.
- The burn meets the criteria of a second-degree burn and involves the face, hands, feet, or genitals. The scar tissue that forms as burns in these areas heal may interfere with how these areas function.
When should I go to an urgent care center or call my doctor?
- The burn meets the criteria of a second-degree burn and is larger than three inches. You may need antibiotics and a dressing to protect the burn and help it heal.
- The burn is a deep second-degree burn; it looks dark red and glossy with extensive blistering.
- The burn is from a fire, an electrical wire or socket, or chemicals.
When can I treat the burn at home?
- The burn meets the criteria of a first-degree burn.
- The burn meets the criteria of a mild second-degree burn and is smaller than three inches.
- Hold the burn under running water, immerse it in fresh water, or apply cool compresses for 10-15 minutes. Use cool water - extreme cold can further damage the tissue.
- Dry the area with a clean cloth and cover with sterile gauze or a non-adhesive bandage if necessary
- Don’t break blisters – this may cause infection.
- Over-the-counter pain medications can help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Antibiotic cream is not necessary. You may put a thin layer of ointment, such as petroleum jelly or aloe, on the burn. Do not use butter, egg whites, cream, or lotion -these can cause infection.
What complications should I look for?
Minor burns can take up to three weeks to fully heal. However, if there is little improvement after a few days of treatment, an antibiotic may be needed due to an underlying infection.
How can I prevent future burns?
- Wear sunscreen and reapply liberally and frequently, even on cloudy days.
- Wear gloves when using harsh chemical products.
- Set your water heater’s thermostat 120 °F or lower to prevent scalding burns.
- Take care when removing hot items from the stove of microwave - most burns happen when a person is distracted.
- 75% of burns in children are caused by hot liquids, tap water or steam. Don’t carry your child and a hot drink at the same time.
- Keep hot appliance such as hair straighteners and irons well out of the reach of children.
- Install smoke alarms and ensure that they’re working properly.
Integrity Urgent Care's Bryan/College Station location is open daily from 8 am - 8 pm. Walk-ins are encouraged and appointments are never necessary. We're only a phone call away if you need more information: (979) 703-1832
Sources: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000662.htm, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/First-Aid-For-Burns.aspx, http://www.menshealth.com/health/emergency-room-urgent-care-or-doctor-visit