How to Treat a Burn
Burns are common household injuries. There are plenty of hot surfaces in the home and it’s possible that any time you deal with fire (as the saying goes) you’ll get burned.
Burns destroy skin layers, and skin is a vital organ in the human body. Your skin heats and cools your body, holds fluids, and even protects the body from infection. That’s why a burn can be so dangerous. Everyday, smaller burns on fingers and hands are usually not dangerous, and can be treated at home with a combination of medication and home remedy. However, burns that injure larger portions of skin can cause serious health problems — some “small burns” can be life-threatening. If you have a burn that you think is significant, appears infected, or is still extremely painful after some time, do not hesitate to call the doctor or visit the Emergency Room.
Treating a Burn
The first step in treating any burn is to cool the burn down and stop the burning. Th best way to cool a burn and to prevent it from burning any further is to run it under cool water for a few minutes.Since our skin acts like a radiator, it may take longer than you think to fully cool down a burn, especially if it is a severe burn.
In case of a serious burn, and when you have called an ambulance, you should keep running cool water over the burn until help arrives.
Early in the burn healing process, keep your eye out for any blistered, cracked, or charred skin. Skin that looks unusual for any reason could be a sign of a dangerous burn.
When skin blisters or starts to come off it means that the top layer of that person’s skin is badly damaged. This amount of damage also means that burn complications are likely. Charred skin indicates that a burn is extremely serious, and that the burn has damaged all three layers of a person’s skin.
How to Know When to Cal 911 for a Burn
The first rule is — if you think you should call 911, go ahead and call.
But if a burn is larger than an arm, call 911 or take the victim to the nearest ER immediately. These are signs of serious burns, and the burn victim will need medical assistance.
Another sign that the emergency room may be in order — burns in the following areas:
If, on the other hand, a burn has caused reddened skin and minor irritation (no blisters), you can simply treat the burn with a topical burn ointment or spray. If the burn is painful, apply cool water (not extremely cold water or warm water).
Burns literally destroy layers of skin, and this loss of your protective skin can lead to opportunistic infection, dehydration, and hypothermia, or loss of body heat. When a burn victim has a serious enough burn, they need emergency medical attention if any of the following symptoms arise:
- dizziness or confusion
- fever or chills
- cold sweats
What to Do For a Serious Burn
First and foremost, call 911. Stay with the burn victim the entire time — until an ambulance or other help arrives. Help them remain clam by appearing calm yourself, and say reassuring things, reminding them that help is on the way.
Never remove any embedded burned clothing or material. If you remove anything from the burns, you could start serious bleeding, turning your burn problem into a burn and bleeding problem. The one thing you should remove (if these items are not stuck in the burned area) are jewelry and any remaining unburned clothing that could be constricting the burned area.
Next, apply cool water to the burned area for just a moment. Do not apply ice or extremely cold water to the burn — room temperature water is your best bet. The burn victim may want you to apply cool water for a long time, but you can only do it a little at a time to avoid damaging the burn further.
Look out for signs of shock. If a burn is bad enough, the victim could go into shock quite easily. If the person’s pulse is really weak or really rapid pulse, and if they have clammy skin, are disoriented or unconsciousness, nauseated, or even violent and combative, they could be going into shock.
As soon as you can, cover the burned area with cool, moist, and sterile bandages. If you don’t have any, simply elevate the burn above the heart. This will prevent shock and can reduce pain.
Burn Healing Tips
First and foremost — do not put butter or oil on a burn. The old wife’s tale that says that butter or oil can heal a burn are simply not true, and butter in particular can cause serious infection.
If your burn is painful even after applying cool water, try either ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Simple burns where the skin is a little red should not be any more painful than simple ibuprofen can take care of — but if you are still in pain even after taking over the counter pain relievers can indicate a more serious burn, and you should call your doctor about a burn that painful.
Remember that burns cause swelling. In most cases, the swelling is minor and usually not even noticeable. But when the face or neck are burned badly enough, the swelling can cause airways to close making breathing difficult. That’s why serious burns on the neck and face are worthy of a call to 911.
If a burn completely encircles hand or a foot, the swelling from that burn can cause restricted blood flor. If a burn has caused a hand or a foot to become “swollen”, tight, and the skin is starting to go numb, turn blue, or “fall asleep”, you should call 911 right away.
To help a burn heal, wear loose-fitting and natural fiber clothing, like silk or light cotton. Harsh fabrics and tight clothes will irritate the burned skin and can even lead to infection.