How to treat minor burns at home and when to seek medical treatment
- You should only attempt to treat a burn
at homeif it's a minor thermal burn caused by an external heat source like a hot drink or open flame.
- To treat minor
burnsat home first cool the wound with clean cool water, and then apply aloe vera or honey to prevent infection and improve the healing process.
- Radiation, chemical, and electrical burns should be treated by a medical professional.
- This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
If you've ever accidentally spilled hot tea on yourself or touched a hot pan, then you know that even minor burns can be painful. While severe burns require immediate medical attention from a physician, some minor burns can be treated at home.
In this article, we provide four at-home remedies to treat minor burns as well as how to tell when your burn is severe enough to warrant medical aid from a physician.
4 home remedies for treating minor burns
The following treatments are for minor first and second-degree thermal burns. Thermal burns are any burn from an external heat source like a hot drink, an open flame, or an oven sheet.
If your thermal burn is more severe or the source of your burn is different, then you should seek medical treatment. Other types of burns include:
- Radiation burn: A burn from a high-energy form of radiation, like gamma rays, that is usually administered to treat cancer.
- Chemical burn: A burn from a strong acid or alkaline produce, like toilet bowl cleaners, car battery fluids, and nitric acid used for metal refining and engraving.
- Electrical burn: An burn caused by exposure to electricity, like from an electrical outlet or a lightning strike.
1. Cool the burn with cool water
Cool the area by running cool (not cold) water over it for about 5 minutes, says Paul Padda, BS, RN, ER at the Nurse at Peace Arch Hospital. This reduces the temperature of the burn, and helps increase blood flow to the area to help with healing.
Don't cool the area for much longer than 5 minutes or you risk maceration, or softening, of the tissue. Also, avoid any direct application of ice or ice-cold water as this can further damage the tissue and slow down the healing process. And don't run water over an open wound as this can introduce bacteria and make the healing process worse.
2. Apply aloe vera for faster healing
Topical aloe vera has antibiotic and antioxidant properties that can help the healing process of minor burns, says Padda.
One literature review found that patients with first and second-degree burns who used aloe vera healed about 8-9 days faster than patients who didn't apply aloe vera.
Avoid any products that have additives like alcohol, fragrances, or dyes as this may lead to an infection.
3. Apply honey to prevent infection
Similar to aloe vera, honey has antimicrobial properties that help prevent infection and promote healing. For example, honey contains specific enzymes that break down sugars — of which honey has plenty — into hydrogen peroxide, a very effective disinfectant.
Depending on the size of the area, 15 to 30 mL of honey can be applied directly to the minor burn or soaked in gauze before application. These steps should happen after the wound has been cleaned and cooled with water.
4. Avoid the sun
To minimize scarring, protect the burn from the sun's harmful UV radiation as it heals. This means staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing when you're outside or applying sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. If the burn is still raw, oozing, or open don't apply sunscreen as this could lead to an infection.
When to seek medical care
There are four types of burns. Usually, first and second degree burns an be treated at home but third and fourth-degree burns will need medical aid. Here's how to tell what degree burn you may have.
1. First-degree burns
Superficial first-degree burns only affect the outer layer of the skin called the epidermis. Examples include a minor sunburn, or accidentally touching a hot pan for a brief instant. Symptoms are red skin, pain, and a chance of some slight inflammation.
Usually, first-degree burns will heal on their own within 2-10 days and don't require treatment. However, if the pain gets worse over time, swells, or becomes infected, you should see a physician right away.
2. Second-degree burns
Partial-thickness, or second-degree, burns affect both the epidermis and dermis, the second layer of skin. Examples include physical sources of heat, like spilling hot water directly on yourself or burning your wrist on an open stove. Symptoms are swelling, redness, blistering, and potential scarring.
These can usually be treated at home if they are less than 2 to 3 inches (or 7cm) in diameter. If the affected area is larger than 3 inches or on a sensitive area including the face, feet, hands, groin, buttock, or skin over a joint, then seek medical attention as these could lead to further complications.
3. Third-degree burns
Deep partial thickness, or third-degree, burns damage all three layers of the skin — the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. They often come from hot liquid touching the skin for longer or over a wider area compared to a second-degree burn.
Symptoms are waxy, white-colored skin or blackened charred skin, a leathery texture, peeling, and numbness. Regardless of the size of these burns, seek medical attention right away.
4. Fourth-degree burns
Full thickness, or fourth-degree, burns are extremely severe and extend into the muscle below the skin. Most of the time, they result from high-voltage electrical burns or severe fire burns. These types of burns tend to lead to a partial or total loss of function of the affected area, and should always be treated by a physician.
The bottom line
For anything beyond a minor burn, you should seek medical attention right away. Otherwise, it could lead to permanent scarring or infection. You may also, lose function of the affected limb, says Padda. So it's best to er on the side of caution when possible.
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