Is It Serious? How to Tell If Your Burn Requires a Doctor.

Accidental household burns are a common injury type treated at urgent care facilities, with severity ranging from mild, superficial redness to life-threatening damage. See how to recognize the severity of a burn, and how to know when to seek medical treatment.


Degrees of Difference

Burn dangers are present in all homes: open flames, boiling water, steam, hot surfaces, electric currents, caustic chemicals – so there’s a good chance that you or a family member will experience a burn at some point. Here’s how to recognize a burn, and to start treatment if appropriate.


First and foremost, ensure everyone present – including yourself – is safe from any further danger. If flames or electrical malfunctions pose a threat, call 911 and move everyone a safe distance from the house.

First-degree burns

First-degree burns will have superficial redness like a sunburn, covering an area no larger than 3 inches. They will usually heal within seven to ten days, although you should see a doctor if the burn covers a large area of skin, or is on your face or a major joint. To treat:

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


Second-degree burns

Second-degree burns will have blistered skin, and likely more pain than a first-degree burn. They may require medical attention depending on the size and location of the burn, and should not be treated lightly as they run a serious risk of infection. They usually heal in two to three weeks if kept clean; however, if the burn covers a large area, treatment by a medical professional is recommended. To treat:

  • 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

Third-degree burns will have a white, leathery appearance or areas of charred skin, and require immediate medical attention due to the high risk of infection. Damage may be so severe that the victim will not experience any pain, and there is a high risk of infection and permanent scarring without immediate medical care. To treat:

  • Call 911 or visit an urgent 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


What not to do, for any degree of burn:

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


An Ounce of Prevention

The best way to avoid burns is to prevent them from happening.  With proper safety measures in place (and a bit of caution), you can keep yourself and your family protected.

  1. Check your smoke alarms regularly.
  2. Be careful around open flames.
  3. Turn down the temperature in your hot water heater.
  4. Be mindful of electrical outlets and cords, childproofing if possible.
  5. Maintain all home electronics in good working order.
  6. Securely store hazardous chemicals like cleaners.
  7. Be cautious with flammable liquids.
  8. Never leave a stove, oven or grill unattended.
  9. Turn off and unplug hot items like clothing irons after use.
  10. Keep fire extinguishers at home, and know how to use one!

But if an accident does happen, remember: when in doubt, it’s always best to seek the treatment of a medical professional. “Because burns affect all age ranges and can cause significant injury, it is important to take them seriously,” says Greg Symenow PA-C, BetterMed Urgent Care Provider.


If you’ve experienced a burn and need treatment, visit one of our BetterMed Urgent Care locations.

Find a BetterMed location near you and book online now.