Minor burns - aftercare
Partial thickness burns
You can care for minor burns at home with simple first aid.
First-degree burns are only on the top layer of the skin.
- Skin usually turns red
- May swell
Second-degree burns go one layer deeper than first-degree burns.
- A blister forms
- Skin is red
- Usually has swelling
- Usually is painful
Treat a burn like a major burn (call your doctor) if it is:
- From a fire, an electrical wire or socket, or chemicals
- Larger than 2 inches
- Or if it is on a hand, foot, face, groin, buttocks, hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or wrist
First Aid for Minor Burns
First, calm and reassure the person who is burned.
If clothing is not stuck to the burn, remove it. If the burn is caused by chemicals, take off all clothes that have the chemical on them.
Cool the burn.
- Use cool water, not ice.
- If possible, especially if the burn is caused by chemicals, hold the burned skin under cool running water for 10 to 15 minutes until it does not hurt as much. Use a sink, shower, or garden hose.
- If this is not possible, put cool clean wet cloth on the burn, or soak the burn in a cool water bath for 5 minutes.
Caring for Burns
After the burn is cooled, make sure it is a minor burn. If it is deeper, or larger, or on a hand, foot, face, groin, buttocks, hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or wrist, seek medical care.
If it is a minor burn:
- Clean the burn gently with soap and water.
- Do not break blisters. An opened blister can get infected.
- You may put a thin layer of ointment, such as petrolatum or aloe vera, on the burn. The ointment does not need to have antibiotics in it, and some antibiotic ointments can cause an allergic reaction. Do not use cream, lotion, oil, cortisone, butter, or egg white.
- If needed, protect the burn from rubbing and pressure with a sterile non-stick gauze lightly taped or wrapped over it. Change the dressing once a day. Do not use a dressing that can shed fibers that get caught in the burn.
- For pain, take an over-the-counter pain medicine according to the directions on the bottle. These include acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), naproxen (such as Aleve), and aspirin. Do not give aspirin to children under 2, or anyone 18 or younger who has or is recovering from chickenpox or flu symptoms.
What to Expect
Minor burns could take up to 3 weeks to heal.
A burn can itch as it heals. Do not scratch it.
The deeper the burn, the more likely it is to scar. If the burn appears to be developing a scar, call your doctor for advice.
When to Call the Doctor
Burns are susceptible to tetanus. If your last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago, call your doctor. You may need a booster shot.
Call your doctor if you have signs of infection:
- Increased pain
- Oozing or pus
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Red streak from the burn
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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