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How to care for a burn

Last Modified: July 01, 2022

Family Medicine

Michelle Kennedy, BSN, RN, Emergency Care, Parkview Regional Medical Center, offers guidance for minor burns, as well as recommendations for when to seek emergency medical attention.

Minor burn care

A minor burn involves the top layer of skin and is often caused by cooking, steam, hot surfaces or sun exposure.

If you experience a minor burn, follow these steps for proper treatment:

1)First you want to remove the source of the burn. If there is clothing touching or covering the burn, remove it. If it sticks to the burn, leave it in place. Remove any jewelry near the burn because swelling will make it difficult to remove later.

2)Next, find a source of cool running water and put the burn under the water for at least 10 minutes. You don’t want to use ice or ice water, which can actually freeze and worsen the burn area. If you are camping and have a cooler with ice water, dip a clean rag into the water and use it to cover the burn. You never want to use butter or oil of any kind to treat or soothe a burn.  

3)Clean the burn area with a mild, unscented soap and water to remove anything that could cause infection.

4)If the skin blisters, you never want to pop the blister because it is protecting the skin underneath. Leave the blister in place so bacteria can’t get in and cause infection. Clean the area around the blister with mild soap and water, put antibacterial ointment over it and cover with a sterile dressing. Repeat daily.

5)If the skin is intact, apply aloe gel or hydrating lotion as needed to keep skin from drying out.

6)If the blister pops on its own, put antibacterial ointment on a sterile, nonstick pad and cover it loosely with acrylic dressing. If you need to use tape to secure a bandage, be sure you don’t put tape on the burned area.

Once the burn begins to heal, if it becomes red or streaks up the arm, becomes really tender, produces a cloudy discharge or you begin running a fever, seek medical attention.

Care for severe burns

Bonfires, fireworks and grills can lead to more severe burns. A burn is considered severe if it blisters right away, peels or covers an area greater than the size of your hand (more than 1% of the body).  

If clothing is touching the burn, try to get as much off as possible, unless it is sticking. Try to cool the area and seek medical attention immediately.  



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