What are the symptoms of a skin burn? — The symptoms depend on how bad your skin burn is. Here are the terms doctors use to describe different types of burns:
Superficial skin burn (used to be called a "first-degree burn") – The burn is only on the top layer of your skin. Your skin will be dry, red, and painful (picture 1). When you press the burn, it turns white. Superficial skin burns heal in 3 to 6 days without leaving a scar.
Superficial partial-thickness burn (used to be called a "second-degree burn") – The burn is on the top 2 layers of your skin, but does not go deep into the second layer. Your skin will hurt with a light touch or if the air temperature changes. The skin will be red and leak fluid, and you might get blisters (picture 2). The burn will turn white when you press it. Superficial partial-thickness burns take 7 to 21 days to heal, and the area of skin that was burned might be darker or lighter than it used to be. The burn might or might not leave a scar.
Deep partial-thickness burn (used to be called a "third-degree burn") – This kind of burn also affects the top 2 layers of skin, but is deeper than a superficial partial-thickness burn (picture 3). The burn will hurt when you press it hard, but it will not turn white. You will get blisters. This kind of burn takes more than 21 days to heal, and will probably leave a scar.
Full-thickness burn (used to be called a "fourth-degree burn") – Full-thickness burns include all the layers of the skin and often affect the fat and muscle underneath. The burn does not usually hurt, and the burned skin can be white, gray, or black (picture 4). The skin feels dry. Your doctor will treat this kind of burn with surgery. You might also need to stay in the hospital for a time and take medicines.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse right away if you are not sure how bad your burn is, or if the burn:
Involves your face, hands, feet, or genitals
Is on or near a joint, such as your knee or shoulder
Goes all the way around a part of your body (such as your arm or leg)
Is bigger than 3 inches across or goes deep into the skin
Causes a fever of at least 100.4°F (38°C) or shows other signs of infection. Infected skin gets more and more red, is painful, and might leak pus.
Goes deeper than the top layer of skin and you have not had a tetanus shot in more than 5 years
People younger than 5 years or older than 70 years with any kind of skin burn should also see their doctor. Plus, people who have trouble fighting infection, for example because they have cancer or HIV, should see a doctor if they have a burn that goes deeper than a superficial burn.
Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — If your burn is not too severe, you can take the following steps:
Clean the burn – Take any clothes off of the area and wash it with cool water and plain soap. If your clothes stick to the burn, go to the emergency room.
Cool the burn – After you have cleaned the skin, you can put a cool cloth on it or soak your skin in cool water. Do not use ice to cool the burn.
Prevent infection – If the burn goes deeper than the top layer of skin, you are at risk of infection. To help prevent infection, you can use aloe vera gel or cream, or an antibiotic cream. If your burn forms blisters, cover it with a clean, non-stick bandage and change the bandage once or twice a day. Do not pop the blisters, because that can lead to infection.
Treat pain – If the burn hurts, try raising the burned part of your body to a level above your heart. For instance, if you burned your foot, try lying down and propping your foot up on pillows. This slows blood flow to the area and can prevent swelling and ease pain. You can also take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin).
Do not scratch the burn – Scratching can increase the risk of infection.
How is a skin burn treated? — If the burn does not need a doctor's care right away, you can start by trying the steps above to clean your burn, prevent infection, and treat your pain. If you have a more serious burn, your doctor might give you a stronger medicine for pain or apply special bandages. For a severe burn, your doctor might suggest surgery to repair the area that was burned. They might also prescribe medicines to prevent infection.
Can skin burns be prevented? — You can reduce the chances that you or your children will get burned by:
Keeping candles, matches, and lighters away from children
Keeping any hot objects away from the edge of the table or stove (examples include foods or liquids, or the handles of pots and pans)
Using a humidifier with cool mist, not warm mist or steam
Keeping children away from hot stoves, fireplaces, and ovens
Having a smoke detector on each floor of your home
Dressing your children in clothes that do not catch fire easily – especially at night. Clothes made from cotton are a good choice.
Setting your hot-water heater no higher than 120°F (49°C)
Covering car seats and seat belts with a cloth if the car is sitting in the sun on a hot day
Using sunscreen if you are going to be in the sun
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15740 Version 7.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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