Vyvian (XueQing) Jiang, BSc Pharm Student
Burn injuries are very common, whether it be from touching a hot stove or accidentally spilling hot water. Most people react by rinsing the area with cold running water, but what are the appropriate steps to take care of these injuries? When should you seek medical attention? Today, we’ll discuss these areas in more details.
When is Medical Attention Needed?
Most of the time, burn injuries heal on their own; however, there are some types of burns that are more serious and should be assessed by a healthcare professional:1,2
- Burns over a large area, or covering entire body parts (face, hand, foot), or major joints
- Deeper burns characterized by extreme pain, blistering, abnormal skin colours (white or brown)
- Any electrical or chemical burn
- Burns where the skin looks leathery (shiny and moist)
- Burns to the airway or if difficulty breathing is experienced
- Children with burns
If the injury doesn’t fit any of the above criteria, then it’s okay to self-treat. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to seek help from a healthcare professional.
How to Self-Treat2
Step 1. Remove any clothing that is covering the burned area.
Step 2. Cool the area with running lukewarm water OR cover with a clean cloth that is soaked with cool water.
Step 3. Use the appropriate dressing to help the healing process (usually takes about 7 days for minor burns).
Step 4. Take pain medications to help with pain. (optional)
Step 5. Check for signs of infection over the course of healing such as any pus, fever, or unpleasant odour from the wound. If these signs are observed, then see your doctor right away.
What Type of Dressing Should I Use?
There are several types of dressing that can be used based on personal preference or what you already have at home. Dressings are usually used to keep the burned area moist in order to enhance healing and act as a barrier to prevent germs from getting in contact with the wound. Evidence suggests that all dressings work equally well for minor burns. You can take a look at the following overview of different types of dressing to decide which one better suits your needs.1
- Gauze – is very simple and easy to use, and is often more cost friendly.
- Comfeel® or Duoderm® – is a type of bandage that contains a gel that helps remove dead tissues on the wound, but is often more costly compared to regular gauze.
- Tegaderm® – is a clear adhesive that goes on top of the wound to protect it. It can stay on the wound for several days, and, again, can be more expensive than regular gauze.
- Intrasite® – is a type of dressing that is used for wounds that have a bit more pus. Evidence seems to suggest that it allows the skin to heal faster.
What Can I Use for Pain?
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®) are good options for most people to treat pain caused by burn injuries because they have an anti-inflammatory effect, in addition to their pain-killer effects.
Keep in mind that it’s important to avoid pain medications initially since they might mask the severity of the burn. If you notice that your wounds are beginning to recover, pain medications may be appropriate to take.1 We recommend consulting your pharmacist or other healthcare professional before taking NSAIDs to ensure that they are safe and appropriate for you.
The Bottom Line
While treating burn injuries may seem simple, it’s crucial to know when you should seek professional help. Medical attention is needed if the patient is a child, if the wound is over a large area of the body, if it’s a deep burn, if the burn is chemical or electrical, or if the wound appears shiny. If this isn’t the case, then you may follow 5 simple steps to self-treat your wound as mentioned above. Remember, it’s very important to keep an eye out for any signs of infection and seek help accordingly.
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- Burns – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/burns/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20370545