Burns are a commonly-occurring injury, but that doesn’t make it any less frightening when they do happen. Reacting to them with appropriate first aid can make a difference, even with minor burns; treatment depends not only on the severity of the burn but also the type.
Thermal burns are the most common kind of burn: these occur from coming into contact with dry heat from hot objects or open flame, wet heat from steam or heated liquids, etc. First degree burns can usually be treated at home, but second or third degree burns will need immediate medical attention; regardless of the severity, the first step is to cool the area. Run cool – but not icy cold – water over the burned area for ten to fifteen minutes or until pain begins to subside. Do not apply ice, butter, lotion, or greasy substances, and remove any restrictive clothing or jewelry, unless the skin peels away with it. It’s important to keep the area clean to prevent infection: wash gently with soap and water and cover with clean bandages that won’t stick to the skin; change these regularly as directed by a doctor.
Some peeling is normal as the burn heels, but immediate peeling can be a sign of a more serious burn. If blisters form, don’t pop them, as this can lead to infection, but if they break on their own be sure to clean them well.
Electrical burns, which occur from contact with frayed wires, open power lines, etc., should be treated by a professional – take the person to a hospital right away. They can cause serious damage to the skin, but in some cases the skin appears relatively unharmed even though their may be severe damage to internal organs that aren’t visible.
For a chemical burn, the area needs to be cleared off immediately: if it’s a dry chemical, brush it off the skin (using gloved or covered hands) and then flush with copious amounts of water; wash liquid chemicals away as well. Remove any contaminated clothing or jewelry to prevent a continuing burn. You can cover the area with a loose bandage, but don’t apply any ointments or topical substances without talking to your doctor first, as they may cause a bad reaction.
Skin that appears charred, leathery, white, or that blisters right away needs emergency treatment, as do burns over large areas; a lack of pain or signs of shock (paleness, shallow breathing, confusion) are also signs of a serious burn – for these, call 911.
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