Treating Painful Burns

Woman hands heating in front a fire place

Burns can be a very painful type of injury, and depending on the severity, they can also be quite serious. Treatment depends on the degree of the burn as well as the cause; you may be able to treat it at home, but more serious cases will require professional medical attention.

Burns can have a wide range of causes: wet heat such as steam or hot water, dry heat such as open flame, a hot object, and even electricity or certain chemicals can all create a different type of burn. Treatment will depend on the source – chemical burns require a different response than thermal (heat) burns, for example – as well as the severity. A first-degree burn, which is generally considered mild and affects only the top layers of skin, can be treated at home, while deeper second- and third-degree burns need emergency care.

For minor burns, the first step is to cool the area: run cool, not cold, water over the burn for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pain begins to fade. This helps soothe the pain and keep the burn under control. Next, remove anything constricting, such as tight jewelry (especially rings) or clothing, from the area, preferably before the swelling sets in. Over-the-counter pain medication and application of soothing topical treatments like aloe vera can help manage pain and reduce swelling; as it begins to heal, antibiotic ointment and dry bandages can help protect the area. If small blisters form, do not pop them yourself, but if they pop on their own, clean them with soap and water, then apply a bandage.

For second- and third-degree burns, call emergency help immediately. In the meantime, move burning materials away from the injured person if you can do so safely, but don’t try to remove burnt clothing; remove restrictive clothing or jewelry, especially around the neck. Check to make sure they’re breathing and begin CPR if necessary. Cover the area with a cool, damp cloth but do not submerse it or douse it in cold water. Elevate the burn above the heart if you can do so safely.

For a chemical burn, the first step is to remove the substance causing it: without coming into contact with the source, brush off dry chemicals from the body and remove contaminated clothing. Rinse the area thoroughly with cool water for at least 10 minutes and flush eyes with fresh water if needed. Over-the-counter pain medication can help, but consult a doctor about any topical treatments.

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