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Most burns are minor injuries that occur at home or work. It's common to get a minor burn from hot water, a curling iron, or touching a hot stove. Home treatment is usually all that's needed for healing and to prevent other problems, such as infection.
There are many types of burns.
Breathing in hot air or gases can injure your lungs (inhalation injuries).
Burns injure the skin layers. They 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.
How serious a burn is depends on several things, such as:
Babies and young children may have a more severe reaction from a serious 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.
How safe a child's environment needs to be depends on the child's age and how much the child needs to be supervised. At each stage of a child's life, look for burn hazards. Then use appropriate safety measures to keep things out of a child's reach. Since most burns happen in the home, simple safety measures decrease the chance of anyone getting burned.
When a child or vulnerable adult is burned, it's important to find out how the burn happened. If the reported cause of the burn doesn't match how the burn looks, it may be a sign of abuse. In that case, resources for help, such as social services, are offered. Self-inflicted burns will need treatment as well as an evaluation of the person's emotional health.
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 get infected and need medical treatment.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
It can be hard to tell how deep a burn is.
Some common burn patterns and common areas for burns that result from abuse include:
With burns caused by abuse, the explanation for the burn may not match the size, shape, or location of the burn. But it still can be hard to tell whether a burn was caused on purpose. A burn caused by throwing hot liquid on someone may look just like a burn caused by an accidental spill.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Heartbeat changes can include:
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Here are some ways to estimate how much of the body is burned in an adult or older child.
Here are some ways to estimate how much of the body is burned in a baby or young child.
Symptoms of infection may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
To clean a wound well:
If a chemical has caused a wound or burn, follow the instructions on the chemical's container or call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) to find out what to do. Most chemicals should be rinsed off with lots of water, but with some chemicals, water may make the burn worse.
Usually found in dirt and soil, tetanus bacteria typically enter the body through a wound. Wounds may include a bite, a cut, a puncture, a burn, a scrape, insect bites, or any injury that may cause broken skin.
You may need a tetanus shot depending on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
If you think that you might have a severe burn, use these first-aid measures while you arrange to be seen by your doctor.
Smother any flames by covering them with a blanket or water. If your clothing catches fire, don't run. Stop, drop, and roll on the ground to smother the flames.
Try 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. Don't rub or massage frozen skin.
Run cool tap water over the burn for 10 to 20 minutes. Don't use ice.
After the person has been separated from the electrical source, check for breathing and a heartbeat. If the person isn't breathing or doesn't have a heartbeat, call 911.
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. Natural foods such as chili peppers, which contain a substance that irritates the skin, can cause a burning sensation.
Run cold water over the hot tar or hot plastic right away. It will cool the tar or plastic.
If clothing is stuck to the burn, don't 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 occurs.
If you are going to see your doctor soon:
Here are things you can do at home for minor burns, such as first-degree burns or sunburns.
These skin lotions can be used to relieve itching. But don't use them if the burns have fluid weeping from them or have fresh scabs.
There isn't much you can do to stop skin from peeling after a sunburn—it's part of the healing process. Lotion may help relieve the itching.
There isn't clear proof that other common remedies are safe and effective, but they may help. For example, you can use an aloe vera lotion or gel, apply calamine lotion for itching, or try an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno.
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. And a newly burned area can sunburn easily. Protect the new skin from sun exposure for the first year after a burn. You can do this by covering the new skin with clothing, staying in the shade, or using sunscreen.
Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
Not all chemical burns are treated with water. Follow the instructions below to care for those other types of burns.
A chemical burn can be caused by alkaline or acid products, metals, and hydrocarbons, such as gas.
Most chemical burns of the skin are treated first by rinsing (flushing) the chemical off your body with a large amount of water. It's important to treat the burn correctly to avoid further problems.
This is general information for treating a chemical burn. Call a Poison Control Center for more specific information.
If someone has swallowed a chemical that may be a poison or that may cause burning in the throat and esophagus, call your local Poison Control Center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) right away for information on treatment. When you call the Poison Control Center, have the chemical container with you, so you can read the content label to the Poison Control staff member. The Poison Control Center can help determine what steps to take next.
As you flush the area, take off any clothing or jewelry that has the chemical on it.
If the area still has a burning sensation after 20 minutes, flush the area again with flowing water for 10 to 15 minutes.
If you need to see a doctor for the burn, take the chemical container with you.
Rinse the burns with water, and apply a bandage. There may be burns where the electrical current entered the body and where it left the body. If you have a visible electrical burn to the skin, an evaluation by your doctor is usually needed.
This helps stop the burning.
This may remove skin that is stuck to the tar or plastic.
This can help remove the tar or plastic. Tar will likely peel off after a few days as the skin cells below the tar flake off normally.
If you have any trouble removing tar or plastic from the skin, you need an evaluation by a doctor.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
March 21, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: March 21, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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