What Is a Burn?

A burn is defined as damage to skin and tissue resulting from overexposure to heat, extreme cold, sunlight, radiation or chemical/electrical contact3.

While burns can happen to anyone, children are particularly at risk4 because they are less aware of the dangers of sunburn or household items that can cause burns, such as matches, fireworks or kitchen equipment4.

The good news is that understanding how burns happen can help you and your loved ones lower the chances of experiencing one.

What can cause a burn?

There are different causes of burns:

  • Thermal burns – contact with fire and hot surfaces, such as a kitchen stove

  • Electric burns – contact with household current, through wires or a faulty appliance5

  • Sun burns – ultraviolet or UV light, from overexposure or inadequate sunblock

  • Friction burns – rubbing against a rough surface for a prolonged time

  • Ice burns – direct contact with ice or very cold temperatures for an extended period

  • Chemical burns – exposure to substances such as paint thinner or gasoline without proper protection3

The most common types of burn are thermal, particularly in the home.

Common signs of a burn

Symptoms vary depending on the cause, severity, and degree of the burn. Common signs of a burn may include:

  • Pain

  • Blisters

  • Swelling

  • White or peeling skin

Burn symptoms are normally worse in the first few hours or days.

What Are the Different Types of Burns?

There are three different degrees of burns:

  • First-degree burns (minor burns) – redness and pain on the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). Considered mild when compared to other burns3

  • Second-degree burns – deep burn with redness, blisters and considerable to severe pain and swelling that affects the outer and lower layers of skin (epidermis and dermis)4

  • Third-degree burns – deep tissue destruction affecting the dermis and lower layers, resulting in a white, brown or charred appearance. These burns can be numb due to nerve damage4

Products by BAND-AID® Brand, the number-one doctor recommended first aid brand, are designed to protect minor cuts, scrapes, and burns while they heal.

For second and third-degree burns, or those on especially sensitive areas, you should seek medical care immediately.

Burn Treatment: How to Take Care Of, Heal and Get Relief from Burns

Find out how to take care of burns at home and how to treat a burn fast if you or someone you know suffers a minor burn.

First aid for burns

Cool it:

  1. Hold the damaged area under cool, running water.1 You can also soak the burn in a bowl of cool (not iced) water

  2. Keep the area under cool water for five to 30 minutes, depending on its size and the level of pain7

  3. This will reduce any swelling. If the burn is on a finger, remove any rings quickly before swelling starts

Treat it:

  1. After soaking, gently pat the damaged area with a clean, soft cloth to dry it. Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to the burn for protection against infection and to relieve pain6

Protect it:

  1. When the burn has been treated, use a sterile adhesive bandage or gauze to cover it6, keep the burn treatment in place and help protect against infection

  2. Make sure the bandage stays in place but take care not to press it tightly on to the burn

  3. Change the bandage daily6

Relieve the pain:

  1. If necessary, take over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen to help with the pain

  2. Some over-the-counter medicines can also reduce swelling

  3. Talk to a doctor if you have questions about treating pain for children under 12 years of age

How to treat a burn blister:

  1. Blisters can develop as burns heal. Avoid the temptation to open a blister to let fluid out, as the blister helps prevent infection

  2. If a blister breaks, hold it under cool, running water to clean it

  3. When it’s dry, put antibiotic ointment on it and cover with a bandage to keep it safe6

Home remedies for burns

In addition to ointments, bandages and over-the-counter medicines, there are other home remedies for burns to consider. These include:

  • Aloe vera – the aloe plant is a natural anti-inflammatory and has anti-bacterial properties. In gel form, it can be used to treat burns7

  • Honey – can be used as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant. Topical use of honey has been shown to help wound healing, particularly in burns8

  • Petroleum jelly – a thin layer of this can help keep a burn from becoming infected6

How to Tell If a Burn Is Infected and When to Seek Additional Care

Many mild burns can be relieved with the use of over-the-counter products such as BAND-AID® Brand HYDRO SEAL® bandages. However, for more serious burns you should seek help from a healthcare professional.

If the burn becomes more painful, or there is discharge from the wound, redness, fever and/or swelling, you may have a burn infection. Contact a doctor if you think this may be the case.

You should also seek medical help if you notice any of the following:

  • The burn hasn’t healed in two weeks and/or remains large3

  • Signs of infection, such as oozing, redness or swelling

  • New symptoms that are unexplainable3

  • Significant scarring3

FAQs

Should you cover a burn or let it breathe?

You should cover a burn with a bandage to keep air off it and prevent infection. But ensure it is wrapped loosely to avoid the pain of added pressure on the burned skin9.

Should you keep a burn moist or dry?

You should keep a burn moist because if the area dries out, you risk breaking the skin. Bacteria could then enter and cause infection.

How can I prevent a burn?

There are many ways to help prevent burns taking place at home:

  • Reduce water temperature when bathing, washing or cleaning

  • Keep hot foods and beverages away from table and counter edges

  • Unplug hot devices when not in use

  • Keep matches and lighters stored in a safe place

  • Store flammable materials safely

  • Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher

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