Burns are a common injury that is sustained in the home, at work or during outdoor activities in people of all ages. There are many causes of burns and they are medically classified as an injury that results in damage to or the death of skin cells in the affected area. Treating burns vary depending on the severity and the nature of the burn. Superficial burns can be treated at home and normally resolve quite quickly while more severe burn cases require immediate medical attention.
Burns are commonly classified into 3 different groups that are not related to the cause of the burn but rather to the severity of the injury that has been sustained:
1. First Degree Burns
These burns are superficial presenting in a red, slightly raised area of the skin with a mild burning sensation. The injury only affects the epidermis, which is the top layer of skin. The skin in the affected area may become dry and itchy as the burn wound begins to heal and will result in shedding of the dead skin cells.
The wound should heal with minimal treatment within one week. However, first degree burns that do not heal quickly cover a large area of the skin or occur on joints or facial areas should be brought to the attention of a doctor.
Home treatment for superficial treating burns includes:
- Hold the burn under cold running water for at least 5 minutes.
- Provide pain relief if necessary in the form of paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- Apply a soothing, healing and moisturizing lotion such as Aloe Vera.
- Make sure the area stays clean and dry with an antibiotic cream and light gauze dressing.
NEVER apply butter, oil or ice directly to the area as this could actually exacerbate the burn and increase the pain. Don’t use cotton wool or swabs to clean the wound as these could stick to burn and cause infection.
2. Second Degree Burns
Second degree burns result in a thickening of the skin, are more visibly red and are accompanied by blisters. The pain experienced is more intense than with first degree burns.
The blistering that is present in second degree burns is a result of damage to the cells of the dermis or deeper layer of the skin. The wound will also appear red, swollen or wet. Blisters that pop increase the risk of infection and the injury needs to be treated and covered to prevent infection and improve healing.
Second degree burns may take up to three weeks to heal, but may require medical treatment if the healing period becomes prolonged. The injury should be treated in the following way.
Run cold water over the area for 15 minutes. If the burn area is too large to enable this process, seek medical attention.
- Provide pain medication for treating burns when needed within recommended doses.
- Apply a soothing gel to the area, avoiding open blisters.
- Use an antibiotic ointment on the blister.
- Cover the affected area with gauze and a cloth bandage. Make sure the dressing is light to prevent an increase in temperature or perspiration.
You should seek urgent medical attention if:
- The injury occurs in a joint, face, hands or feet, buttocks or in the groin area.
- If the wound becomes infected.
3. Third Degree Burns
Third degree burns cause the skin to have a tightened consistency resulting in a difficulty in movement, appear white, waxy with charred or brown skin and may present with severe, large blisters. The pain is intense and this type of burn needs medical intervention as soon as possible.
Third degree burns should not be treated in any way except by a medical professional. The patient should be taken to the emergency room or emergency services should be called immediately. Burns of this nature can take an extended period of time to heal and treating burns.