How to treat a burn

Second Degree Burn

  • Results in damage extending beyond the top layer of skin
  • The skin will blister and become extremely red and sore
  • Should be assessed by a doctor for risk of infection
  • If over-the-counter pain relief is not sufficient, a prescription medication may be required

Third Degree Burn

  • Burn extends through every level of skin
  • One of the most severe burns
  • If extensive nerve damage has occurred, there may not be any pain
  • Common signs of a third-degree burn include:
    • Bleeding
    • Appearing a bit black
    • Skin appearing dry or leathery
    • If your burn is bleeding, looks a little bit black, or your skin appears dry or leathery
  • Seek emergency medical care immediately

Fourth Degree Burn

  • This is the most serious type of burn
  • Fourth-degree burns penetrate deeply beneath the skin
  • There is potential for nerve damage and injury to deeper tissues including muscles, tendons, and bones
  • Due to nerve damage, there may not be any pain
  • Burns may appear white, brown, yellow, or blackened
  • Seek emergency medical care immediately


First Aid for Burns

In the case of a burn, regardless of the degree of burn, there are three steps you should follow to minimize injury and maximize chances of recovery:

  • Step 1: Prevent shock
  • Step 2: Relieve pain/discomfort
  • Step 3: Reduce the risk of infection

Depending on the degree of burn, the specific tasks within each step will differ. Outlined below are the actions to be taken based on the type of burn you received or are treating:

First Degree Burn Treatment

  • Usually treated with home care
  • Soak burns in cold water asap; healing time can be reduced by treating burns quickly
  • Soak burn for at least five minutes
  • Apply aloe vera to soothe the skin
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken for pain relief
  • Skin may peel as it heals
  • A full recovery should take three weeks
  • A doctor should be consulted if there are any signs of infection or if pain worsens
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Second Degree Burn Treatment

  • Run burn under cold water for at least 15 minutes
  • Keep burn clean to prevent infection
  • Consult a doctor for wound assessment, tetanus shot administration, and prescription pain medication if required
  • Burns should heal in three weeks without scarring
  • Changes in pigment to affected skin may occur
  • A doctor should be consulted if there are any signs of infection or if pain worsens after initial assessment.

Third and Fourth Degree Burn Treatment

  • Call 911 immediately; do not self-treat
  • These burns carry a high risk of complications and will likely require surgery
  • Remove constrictive clothing or jewelry close to the burn site asap (burns swell quickly)
  • Loosely cover the burned area with material that won’t leave lint in the wound (but preferably a sterile, non-stick bandage)
  • Elevate burn area above heart level
  • Check pulse and monitor until emergency help arrives
  • Victims can suffer from long-term effects requiring ongoing medical treatment, rehabilitation, and mental health counselling
  • Some victims suffer from blood loss, hypothermia, or bacterial infections such as tetanus
  • These types of burns can sometimes be fatal

Treatment for Burns to the Hands

Unfortunately, burns to the hands can be very serious and sometimes are not easy to treat. The palm of your hand is only 1% of your body’s surface area but a burn to that area can lead to serious short- or long-term disability. If you are helping someone tend to a hand burn or have burned your own hand, below are some tips to increase your chances of a speedy recovery.

  • Elevate your hand  above heart level to prevent the formation of an edema
  • Check that airways are clear and there are no breathing concerns
    • Burns often result in shock and may lead to changes in or loss of pulse
    • If the pulse is lost, techniques such as incisions in the arm may be required
  • For burns resulting in blisters, consult a doctor as breaking blisters and leaving them intact are both viable options
  • Daily care is extensive
    • Burned hands need to be cleaned twice a day with a mixture of water and antiseptics
    • Dressings are available for treating partial thickness burns to the hand
    • Burned hands must be positioned for proper wrist extension and joint form
  • A burn to the hands may require substantial adjustments to your daily life and routines
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Serious hand burns can lead to time off work and even permanent disability. This is why burn prevention is so essential.

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