Is It a Serious Burn? Learn to Tell When Your Burn Needs a Doctor

The holidays are a time for joy, but, unfortunately, they’re also prime time for burn centers around the country. According to an article shared by Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt Regional Burn Center Director Jeff Guy says, “we see a significant increase in burn patients between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Burn injuries occur in many ways, from cooking accidents and Christmas light fires to fireplaces. According to Guy, most of the injuries are preventable with proper safety precautions and by paying just a little more attention when in the kitchen.

  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking.
  • Make sure to keep flammable items away from stove tops and other open flames.
  • When buying a Christmas tree, look for one that has sticky sap and fresh, green needles.
  • Always double-check smoke detectors and cords on decorations for cracks and wear. Discard damaged decorations.

What to Do If You’re Burned

Photo: Red Cross

Accidents happen. If you happen to sustain a burn, the first step of treatment is to identify the severity of the burn.

  • First-degree burns will have a superficial redness like a sunburn, and an area no larger than 3 inches.
  • Second-degree burns are blistered and more painful. They can require medical attention depending on the size and location of the burn.
  • Third-degree or major burns require immediate medical attention. They will have a white, leathery appearance or char.

First-Degree Burn Treatment

Photo: Pixabay

First-degree burns will usually heal within seven to ten days. However, you should see a doctor if the burns cover a large area of skin, or are on your face or a major joint.

Treat the burn:

  • Soak in cool water (not ice water, as this will make the damage worse).
  • Take ibuprofen to reduce swelling.
  • Use aloe vera gel or lidocaine.
  • Keep clean with loose gauze and antibiotic cream.

Second-Degree Burn Treatment

Photo: Pixabay

Second-degree burns should not be treated lightly; they run a serious risk of infection. If the burn covers a large area, treatment by a medical professional is recommended. They usually heal in two to three weeks if kept clean.

Treat the burn:

  • Soak in cool water.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medication.
  • Keep the blisters clean and use antibiotic cream.
  • Contact a medical professional if the burn covers a large area, the palms, soles of feet, face or a joint or shows sign of infection

Third-Degree Burns

Photo: BetterMed

Third-degree burns require immediate medical attention. The damage may be so severe that the victim will not experience any pain. Without medical care, there is a high risk of infection and permanent scarring.

Treat the burn:

  • Call 911 or visit a care center.
  • Do not use cool water or ice on the burn.
  • Raise the injury above the heart if possible.
  • Do your best to make sure no clothing is stuck to the burn.

WHO Tips

 The World Health Organization offers other global tips for managing the treatment of burns.

What to do

  • Stop the burning process by removing clothing and irrigating the burns.
  • Extinguish flames by allowing the patient to roll on the ground, or by applying a blanket, or by using water or other fire-extinguishing liquids.
  • Use cool running water to reduce the temperature of the burn.
  • In chemical burns, remove or dilute the chemical agent by irrigating with large volumes of water.
  • Wrap the patient in a clean cloth or sheet and transport to the nearest appropriate facility for medical care.

What not to do

  • Do not start first aid before ensuring your own safety (switch off electrical current, wear gloves for chemicals etc.)
  • Do not apply paste, oil, haldi (turmeric) or raw cotton to the burn.
  • Do not apply ice because it deepens the injury.
  • Avoid prolonged cooling with water because it will lead to hypothermia.
  • Do not open blisters until topical antimicrobials can be applied, such as by a health-care provider.
  • Do not apply any material directly to the wound as it might become infected.
  • Avoid application of topical medication until the patient has been placed under appropriate medical care.

Burn Safety

The best way to avoid burns is to prevent them from happening. When preparing for the holidays, make sure to pay attention to what you’re doing and keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand.

“Because burns affect all age ranges and can cause significant injury, it is important to take them seriously.  What may appear to be a first degree burn anywhere on a child under the age of 5 or the elderly can cause significantly deeper injury because the skin on these age groups is much thinner.  Also keep in mind that areas of the body that are naturally thin-skinned in all of us, to include the ears, inner things and inner forearms are at a higher risk of further injury with a mild burn as well.  If a burn involves the face, the palm of hands, soles of feet, if the burn crosses a major joint such as the knee or elbow, or is circumferential, you should really be evaluated by a medical provider,” says Greg Symenow PA-C, BetterMed Provider.