Most burns are minor injuries that occur at
home or work. It is common to get a minor burn from hot water, a curling iron,
or touching a hot stove. Home treatment is usually all that is needed for
healing and to prevent other problems, such as infection.
many types of burns.
- Heat burns (thermal burns)
are caused by fire, steam, hot objects, or hot liquids. Scald burns from hot
liquids are the most common burns to children and older
- Cold temperature burns are caused by skin exposure to wet, windy, or cold conditions.
- Electrical burns are caused by
contact with electrical sources or by lightning.
- Chemical burns are caused by contact with household or
industrial chemicals in a liquid, solid, or gas form. Natural foods such as
chili peppers, which contain a substance irritating to
the skin, can cause a burning sensation.
- Radiation burns are caused by the sun, tanning booths, sunlamps, X-rays, or
radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
- Friction burns are caused by contact with any hard surface such as roads ("road
rash"), carpets, or gym floor surfaces. They are usually both a scrape
(abrasion) and a heat burn. Athletes who fall on floors, courts, or tracks may get friction burns to the skin. Motorcycle or bicycle riders who have road
accidents while not wearing protective clothing also may get friction burns. For
information on treatment for friction burns, see the topic
Breathing in hot air or gases can injure your lungs (inhalation injuries). Breathing in toxic gases, such as
carbon monoxide, can cause poisoning.
Burns injure the skin layers and can also injure other parts of the body, such
as muscles, blood vessels, nerves, lungs, and eyes. Burns are defined as
first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree, depending on how many
layers of skin and tissue are burned. The deeper the burn and the larger the
burned area, the more serious the burn is.
- First-degree burns are burns of the
first layer of skin .
- There are two types of
- Superficial partial-thickness burns injure
the first and second layers of skin.
- Deep partial-thickness
burns injure deeper skin layers.
- Third-degree burns (full-thickness
burns) injure all the skin layers and tissue under the skin. These burns always require medical
- Fourth-degree burns extend through the skin to injure
tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and bones. These burns
always require medical treatment.
seriousness of a burn is determined by several
- The depth, size, cause, affected body area, age,
and health of the burn victim.
- Any other injuries that occurred,
and the need for follow-up care.
Burns affect people of all ages, though some are at higher
risk than others.
- Most burns that occur in children younger than
age 5 are scald burns from hot liquids.
- Over half of all burns
occur in the 18- to 64-year-old age group.
- Older adults are at a
higher risk for burns, mostly scald burns from hot liquids.
are twice as likely to have burn injuries as women.
Burns in children
Babies and young children may have
a more severe reaction from a burn than an adult. A burn in an adult may cause
a minor loss of fluids from the body, but in a baby or young child, the same
size and depth of a burn may cause a severe fluid loss.
age determines how safe his or her environment needs to be, as well as how much
the child needs to be supervised. At each stage of a child's life, look for
burn hazards and use appropriate
safety measures. Since most burns happen in the home,
simple safety measures decrease the chance of
anyone getting burned. See the Prevention section of this topic.
When a child or
vulnerable adult is burned, it is important to find
out how the burn happened. If the reported cause of the burn does not match how
the burn looks,
abuse must be considered and resources for help, such as social services, offered. Self-inflicted burns will
require treatment as well as an evaluation of the person's emotional
Infection is a concern with all burns. Watch for
signs of infection during the healing process. Home
treatment for a minor burn will reduce the risk of infection. Deep burns with
open blisters are more likely to become infected and need medical
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.
Most minor burns will heal on
their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your
symptoms and promote healing. But if you suspect you may have a more severe
injury, use first-aid measures while you arrange for an evaluation by your
Immediate first aid for burns
- First, stop the burning to prevent a more
- Heat burns (thermal burns): Smother any
flames by covering them with a blanket or water. If your clothing catches fire,
do not run: stop, drop, and roll on the ground to
smother the flames.
- Cold temperature burns: Try first aid measures to warm the areas. Small areas of your body (ears, face, nose, fingers, toes) that are really cold or frozen can be warmed by blowing warm air on them, tucking them inside your clothing or putting them in warm water.
- Liquid scald burns (thermal burns): Run cool
tap water over the burn for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not use ice.
- Electrical burns: After the person has been separated
from the electrical source, check for breathing and a heartbeat. If the person
is not breathing or does not have a heartbeat, call 911 .
- Chemical burns: Natural foods such as
chili peppers, which contain a substance irritating to
the skin, can cause a burning sensation. When a chemical burn occurs, find out
what chemical caused the burn. Call your local Poison Control Center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) for more information about how to treat the burn.
- Tar or hot plastic burns: Immediately run cold water over the hot tar or hot
plastic to cool the tar or plastic.
- Next, look for other injuries. The burn may not be the only injury.
- Remove any jewelry or clothing
at the site of the burn. If clothing is stuck to the burn, do not remove it.
Carefully cut around the stuck fabric to remove loose fabric. Remove all
jewelry, because it may be hard to remove it later if swelling
Prepare for an evaluation by a doctor
If you are
going to see your doctor soon:
- Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth to
reduce the risk of infection.
- Do not put any salve or medicine on
the burned area, so your doctor can properly assess your burn.
not put ice or butter on the burned area, because these measures do not help
and can damage the skin tissue.
Home treatment for minor burns
- For home treatment of
first-degree burns and sunburns:
- Use cool cloths on burned
- Take frequent cool showers or baths.
soothing lotions that contain aloe vera to burned areas to relieve pain and
0.5% hydrocortisone cream to the burned area also may
help. Note: Do not use the cream on children younger
than age 2 unless your doctor tells you to. Do not use in the rectal or vaginal
area of children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to.
- There isn't much you can do to stop skin from
peeling after a sunburn—it is part of the healing process. Lotion may help
relieve the itching.
- Other home treatment measures, such as
chamomile, may help relieve your sunburn symptoms.
You may be able to treat second-degree burns at home.
First-degree burns and minor second-degree burns can be painful. Try the
following to help relieve your pain:
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
| Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
- Acetaminophen, such
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
- Ibuprofen, such as Advil or
- Naproxen, such as Aleve or Naprosyn
- Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
| Be sure to follow
these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
- Carefully read and follow all
directions on the medicine bottle and box.
- Do not take more than
the recommended dose.
- Do not take a medicine if you have had an
allergic reaction to it in the past.
you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take
- If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other
than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
- Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
Some doctors suggest using skin lotions,
such as Vaseline Intensive Care or Lubriderm, on first-degree burns or
second-degree burns that have unbroken healing skin. These skin lotions can be
used to relieve itching but should not be used if the burns have fluid weeping
from them or have fresh scabs. An antihistamine, such as Benadryl or
Chlor-Trimeton, can also help stop the itching. Read and follow any warning on
When a first-degree burn or minor second-degree burn is
2 to 3 days old, using the juice from an aloe leaf can help the burn heal and
feel better. Applying the aloe juice may sting at first contact.
It is important to protect a burn while it is healing.
- Newly healed burns can be sensitive to
temperature. Healing burns need to be protected from the cold, because the
burned area is more likely to develop frostbite.
- A newly burned
area can sunburn easily. Sunscreen with a high sun protective factor (SPF at
least 30) should be used for the first year after a burn to protect the new
Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood
supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
- Pain increases.
- Difficulty breathing develops.
- Signs of infection develop.
become more severe or frequent.
Most burns happen in the home. Simple
safety measures decrease the chances
of anyone getting burned.
Home safety measures
- Do not smoke in bed.
- Place smoke
alarms and other fire safety devices in strategic locations in your home, such
as in the kitchen and bedrooms and near fireplaces or stoves. Smoke detectors
need to be checked and to have the batteries replaced regularly. A good way to
remember to do this is to check smoke detectors twice a year when daylight
savings and standard time change.
- Make a fire escape plan, and make
sure the family knows it (babysitters, too).
- Keep a fire
extinguisher near the kitchen and have it checked yearly. Learn how to use it.
Put out food or grease fires in a pan with a lid or another
- Set your water heater at
120 °F (50 °C) or lower. Always
test the temperature of bathwater.
- Store cleaning
solutions and paints in containers in well-ventilated areas.
proper fuses in electrical boxes, do not overload outlets, and use insulated
and grounded electrical cords.
- Keep trash cleaned up in attics,
basements, and garages.
- Be careful with gas equipment such as lawn
mowers, snowblowers, and chain saws.
- Be careful with any flammable substances used to start fires, such as lighter fluid.
- Avoid fireworks. Think of
safety first when dealing with fireworks.
Your local fire department is a good resource for more
information on how to prevent fires, make a fire escape plan, use fire safety
devices, and provide first-aid treatment for burns.
Teach children safety rules for
matches, fires, electrical outlets, electrical cords, stoves, and chemicals.
Keep in mind
child safety considerations. Prevention tips for children include the following:
- Keep matches and flames, such as candles or
lanterns, out of the reach of children. Keep small children away from stoves
and ovens when you are cooking, and do not place pot handles where a child can
reach them. Do not let children play with any small appliances such as curling
irons, hair dryers, toasters, or heating pads.
- Never hold a child
while smoking or drinking a hot liquid, because any sudden movement by the
child could cause a burn.
- Never leave hot
foods or liquids within reach of children, such as on the edges of tables or
counters. Also, be cautious about leaving hot liquids on a table with a
tablecloth that young children can reach and pull down.
- Prevent electrical, chemical, friction, and heat burns in young children:
electrical cords away from a child's reach. A child chewing on a cord could
cause an electrical burn of the mouth. Cover electrical outlets so children
will not stick items in the outlet.
- Do not allow children to remove
hot items from the oven or microwave. Use caution whenever heating baby bottles
in the microwave so that the liquid does not get too hot. A liner may burst or
a lid may not be secure, and when the bottle is tipped for feeding, the hot
contents may burn the baby. For this reason, most doctors recommend that
bottles not be heated in the microwave.
- Store cleaning solutions and chemicals out of the reach
- Friction burns can cause small cuts and scrapes. Don't pull or drag your child across carpet while playing.
- Teach children who are old
enough to understand to stop, drop, and roll if their
clothing catches on fire so they can help put out the flame and prevent getting
- Buy children's sleepwear made of flame-retardant
fabric. Dress children in flame- and fire-retardant clothing. Older adults need
to be careful about wearing clothing with loose material that could catch on
- Keep woodstoves and fireplaces in good working condition, and
use screens to keep children a safe distance away. Keep portable heaters,
furnaces, water heaters, and small appliances in good working
Reduce the risk of a lightning strike
avoid placing camping tents under tall trees, near bodies of water, or on the
highest hill in an area. Seek shelter in a covered area, such as a car, if you
get caught outdoors in bad weather. If no shelter is available, lie on the
ground in a ditch or take cover in a thick grove of trees, where lightning
striking a single tree is unlikely.
- Avoid handling metal or electrical
- Avoid or stop using any machines outdoors.
out of water and off of boats.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
- What caused the burn?
- What kind of
material was burning (such as wood, plastic, chemical, or
- When did the burn occur?
- What is the size
and location of the burn? Can you
estimate the depth as a first-, second-, or
- Was there a possibility of
smoke inhalation? Was the fire in an enclosed
- How was the fire put out?
- Were there other
- What home treatment has been used?
- Do you
- Burns to the Eye
- Head Injury, Age 3 and Younger
- Head Injury, Age 4 and Older
|By: ||Healthwise Staff ||Current as of: December 27, 2012|
|Medical Review: ||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine