Treating Burns

Burns commonly happen at home. Touch a hot stove, spill hot water, even natural foods like certain peppers can contain a substance that is irritating to the skin and cause a burning sensation.  

There are different burns.

  • Heat burns: Called thermal burns, caused by fire, steam, hot objects or hot liquids.
  • Cold temperature burns: Caused when skin is exposed to wet, windy or cold conditions.
  • Electrical burns: Caused by electrical sources or lightning.
  • Chemical burns: Caused by contact with household or industrial chemicals in a liquid, solid or gas form.
  • Radiation burns: From the sun, tanning booths, sunlamps, X-rays or radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
  • Friction burns: Contact with any hard surface such as roads, carpets or gym floor surfaces.  

Burns are defined as first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree, depending on how many layers of skin and tissue are burned. The deeper the burn, the more serious the burn is. Third-degree burns injure all the skin layers and tissue under the skin. These require medical treatment. Fourth-degree burns require medical treatment because they extend through the skin to injure muscle, ligaments, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and bones.

Most minor burns will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve symptoms and promote healing. If there is any suspicion of a more severe injury, use first-aid measures and arrange to be seen by a family doctor.  

If seeking immediate medical attention:

  • Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Do not put any salve or medicine on the burned area, so the doctor can properly assess the burn.
  • Do not put ice or butter on the burned area. Those measures do not help and can damage the skin tissue.

By Donn Fuhrmann, MD, ThedaCare Physicians-New London