What should I know about treating burns?

Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Burns are one of the most common household injuries. Common causes of burns include fire, scalding steam or hot liquids, electrical burns, touching hot objects, and chemical burns.

Home Remedies for Minor Burns

If you experience a minor burn that doesn’t need immediate attention, try the following steps:

  1. Cool the burn
    Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water for 20 minutes, or until the pain relieves. A cool compress, when used in 5- to 15- minute intervals, can help reduce swelling and relieve pain. Do not use ice. Putting ice on a burn can cause further damage to the tissue.
  2. Aloe vera
    Aloe vera is known to be effective in healing first- to second-degree burns. Apply a layer of aloe vera gel directly to the affected area. If you buy aloe vera at the store, make sure that it contains a high level of aloe vera. Avoid products that have coloring or perfumes.
  3. Honey
    Honey is known to be anti-inflammatory and naturally antibacterial. Apply honey topically to the burn area.
  4. Reduce sun exposure
    Burn areas are especially sensitive, which is why it’s important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. Keep your burn covered with clothing.
  5. Don’t break blisters
    Blisters help to prevent infection. If the blister does break, clean the area with water, then apply an antibiotic ointment. If a rash appears, stop using the ointment.
  6. Apply lotion
    Once the burn is completely cooled, apply a lotion. This helps to prevent drying and provides relief.
  7. Bandage the burn
    Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on the burned skin.
  8. Take a pain reliever
    Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve). Be sure to read the label for the correct dosage.

How to treat major burns

For any major burns, call 911 immediately. Until emergency assistance arrives, you can:

  1. Protect the burned person from further harm
    Make sure that the person you’re helping is no longer in contact with the source of the burn. Do not try to remove clothing that is stuck to the burn.
  2. Make sure that the burned person is breathing
  3. Remove jewelry, belts, and other tight items
    Burned areas swell quickly, so be sure to remove all tight items from the burned area and the neck.
  4. Cover the burn
    Loosely cover the burn area with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
  5. Raise the burned area
    Lift the burned area above the heart level if possible.
  6. Watch for signs of shock
    Signs include cool, clammy skin, a weak pulse, and shallow breathing (see below).

When to see a doctor

The American Burn Association recommends that burn patients who meet the following criteria should be treated at a specialized burn center:

  • Individuals with second-degree burns over 10% or more of their total body
  • Anybody with third-degree burns
  • Burns of the face, hands, feet, groin, or genital area, or burns that extend all the way around a portion of the body
  • Burns accompanied by an inhalation injury affecting the airway or lungs
  • Burn patients with existing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, or multiple sclerosis
  • Suspected child or elder abuse
  • Chemical burn
  • Electrical injury

Our NGPG Urgent Care practices can treat most minor burns. Visit www.ngpg.org/urgent-care to find a location near you with the shortest wait time. If you have a major burn, seek medical attention right away by visiting the emergency room closest to you.