“Ouch!!! I just ran my hand over with an iron… its all orangy, white and red! What do I do!? Let me Google this up really quick. Ah, Natural News says there is a phenomenal gluten free natural burn cream. It says I should get a mortar and pestle and grind up some fresh mint and cilantro, and then fold that into a mixture of honey, mayonnaise and Grey Poupon, and apply it to the burn site.”
You’re burnt arm isn’t going to be in a BLT so why are you making honey-mustard?
Burn care is simple and requires NO such creams or concoctions!
Burn care generally requires only one ingredient: cool/lukewarm water. And a considerable amount of common sense. Make that two ingredients.
The type of burn you are treating will determine the type of treatment you need to provide. For the purpose of this article we are simply going over burns from heat or fire. Burns for chemicals, electrical etc. deserve their own article.
The Most Important
But before we go in and classify burns and discuss treatments we need to go over the most important aspect to burns: when someone is being burnt you must STOP THE BURNING. You would think this is so obvious that it goes without saying but don't be so presumptuous, people tend to do the least rational things when emergencies arise.
Whether you are being burned by a flame, chemical liquid, boiling steam or an electrical current, you MUST stop the burning process, and do it in a way where you don't endanger yourself (when you are helping someone who is actively burning).
Three Degrees of Burns
Ok, now let's dive in and classify your burns. We have 1st degree, 2nd degree and 3rd degree. Some also include a 4th degree burn but that is not widely used nor is it necessary, the system of 3 types is more than sufficient.
- First Degree: red, stinging, and annoying
- Second Degree: orange, red, blistering, very painful
- Third Degree: charred, white, gray, black, leathery, with outside being red/orange blistering
Description: Red skin. Itchy and stingy. Not serious, even if your entire body surface area has a 1st degree burn. This is a sun burn basically.
Pain: Painful, menacing and annoying.
Treatment: cool water (bath/shower), aloe is fine, as well as any ‘cryo’ creams that help make it feel cool. Ice cold water is NOT necessary and is more painful than it is helpful. You do not need to go to the Emergency Room for any 1st degree burn no matter the size.
Description: Red skin, with orange patches and blisters. The blisters will take a bit of time to form and will not occur immediately. The skin will be Red, orange and maybe even pale/glassy. If your entire body surface area had a 2nd degree burn that would be very serious and you would want to go to the ER.
Pain: Intense pain.
Treatment: Delicately run cool/lukewarm water over the burn for as long as necessary (30min) to remove the heat. Then wrap with a cool damp gauze. There are commercially made ‘burn’ dressings for this. They work great. Do NOT put a 2nd degree burn into a bowl of ice water! Do NOT pop the blisters, as that increases risk of infection. If the 2nd degree burn is large in size, or if it is on your eyes, neck, hands, feet, genitals you should go to the Emergency Room. When in doubt just go.
Description: Flesh is burned through, exposing muscle and possibly bone. The outsides of the burn will be red and orange, and the inner area itself may be gray, black and charred. The burned area is dry and leathery. Some third-degree burns will feel hard and firm.
Pain: Areas where nerve endings are damaged may not have feeling. Surrounding area’s with burns which are less severe may be very painful.
Treatment: Do NOT pour any water on the burn. Simply wrap the burn in a DRY sterile gauze and go straight to the Emergency Room. Do not put ANYTHING on the burn other than the sterile gauze. A third degree burn of any size requires a visit to the Emergency Room.
A note on water temperature
When running water on a 1st or 2nd degree burn remember it is not cold water nor hot water.
When do I go to the Emergency Room?
The burn is white, pink, red or brown; or appears dry, leathery or charred. (3rd degree burn)
The burn is larger than them victim’s palm. (3rd degree burn)
Hands, feet, face, eyes or genitalia are burned.
Electricity or chemicals caused the burn.
Smoke or toxic fumes affected the person.
The person has a chronic health condition such as diabetes.
The person is an infant, young child or senior citizen.
The person complains of being cold or is shivering. (It’s OK to cover him or her with a blanket.)
Other types of burns
Burns from flames are only one of many different types. Two very common other types of burns are steam burns and hot liquid burns. Here is what Emergency care and transportation of the sick and injured has to say about them:
Hot Liquid Burns
“Hot liquids produce scald injuries. A scald burn is most commonly seen in children and handicapped adults but can happen to anyone, particularly while cooking. Scald burns often cover large surface areas of the body because liquids can spread quickly.”
“A steam burn can produce a topical (scald) burn. Minor steam burns are common when uncovering the plastic wrap from microwaved food. When the plastic is peeled away, hot steam escapes directly onto the person’s hand. Steam (that is, gaseous water) is also responsible for causing airway burns.”
“Manage thermal burns largely the same as you would manage any other burn. Stop the burning source, cool the burned area if appropriate, and remove all jewelry. All patients with large surface burns should have a dry sterile dressing applied to help maintain body temperature, prevent infection, and provide comfort.”
Source: Pollak, A. N., Edgerly, D., McKenna, K., & Vitberg, D. A. (2017). Emergency care and transportation of the sick and injured. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Electrical burns are peculiar in that they can have an entry wound and an exit wound, not unlike a bullet. Different levels of intensity of electricity will determine how bad the burn is. They can range all the way from first degree to third degree.
Here are some things that can cause an electrical burn:
- Power lines
- Exposed electrical wires in your house
The treatment for electrical burns is the same as the earlier mentioned treatment for flame burns. Keep in mind you still have to stop the electrical burning process. Burn Injury Guide writes:
"Electrical burns can be tricky to treat, as the source of the burn can cause injury to anyone that comes in contact with the patient if the patient is still in contact with the electrical source. The electrical source should be removed or turned off if possible, using an object that is made of wood, rubber, or plastic, as these materials do not conduct electricity. The patient should be laid down to prevent injury from shock or seizures that may occur."
Generally, chemical burns are strong acids or strong bases. They can be liquid or powder. It is vital to remember that if the burn is coming from a powder that you BRUSH it off, and not douse it with water until you've brushed it all off (so as not to activate the chemical by adding water to it). Depending on the strength of the chemical the burn does have the potential of becoming a 3rd degree burn (considering it like acid eating through flesh).
Here are some things around the house that can cause you a chemical burn:
- Concrete mix
- Drain or toilet bowl cleaners
- Metal cleaners
- Pool chlorinators
Just like with a flame burn, remember you also want to stop the burning process with a chemical burn. That means brushing off the chemical if it is a powder and dousing it with water if it is a liquid.
Treating the burn is also just like treating a flame burn, even though there is no flame you will still want to run water over it to help cool it down.
A fire that is prevented from occurring will spare you the trauma of having to deal with burn injuries. Therefore, prevention plays a vital role on the topic of burn treatment. The most basic of the basics for fire safety would be making sure your house has functioning smoke alarms. Here is some info on that:
Homes without working smoke alarms is a critical issue, check out the info on this website:
One way to get a free smoke alarm:
Get smoke alarms in Hillsborough County:
Fire safety at home with the kiddies: