Minor burn symptoms and treatment
As children, “hot” is one of the first words we learn to signify danger. From too much sunshine, to hot pots and pans in the house, to slipping near a grill or fireplace, every day we encounter risks for burns that may require medical attention.
Burns are categorized into three levels based on severity. The varying degrees of burns have different symptoms and may require different treatments.
First-degree burns can be caused by overexposure to the sun (sunburn), or brief contact with hot material.
A first-degree burn is a minor red burn affecting only the top layer of skin. The burned skin may be painful and slightly swollen, and it may make a person feel slightly feverish.
Minor first-degree burns can generally be treated at home by applying a cool compress (not ice) and taking aspirin or acetaminophen. If you’re not sure of the severity of the burn, it’s best to get a medical opinion.
Second-degree burns can be caused by contact with hot oil, grease, soup, or microwaved liquids. In rare cases, sun exposure can also cause second-degree burns. A second-degree burn means that the deep skin layers and nerve endings have been damaged. There are two types of second-degree burns:
- Superficial partial-thickness burns injure the first and second layers of skin and are often caused by hot water or hot objects. The skin around the burn turns white (blanches) when pressed, and then turns back to red. The burn is moist and painful with blistering and swelling that usually lasts for at least 48-72 hours.
- Deep partial-thickness burns injure deeper skin layers and are white with red areas. These are often caused by contact with hot oil, grease, soup, or microwaved liquids. This kind of burn is not as painful, but it can cause a pressure sensation. The skin looks spotted, remains white when pressed, may appear waxy in some areas, and is dry or slightly moist. Risk of infection is an important concern with these burns.
Immediately following this type of burn, you can submerge the burned area in cool (not cold) water, and take aspirin or acetaminophen to help alleviate pain. Loosely wrap the burn in sterile gauze if available, but do not apply ice or ointments to the burned skin unless directed by a medical professional.
Due to the risk of infection, it is recommended that you seek medical attention for any second-degree burns, especially those larger than three inches, or for any burns located on the hands, feet, face, groin, or buttocks, or over a major joint.
Common causes of third-degree burns are steam, hot oil, grease, chemicals, electrical currents, and hot liquids. A third-degree burn can cause severe pain and potentially result in permanent tissue damage.
Third-degree burns may look white, cherry red, or black, and they do not blanch (change color when you press on them). Although blisters may develop, third-degree burns are mostly dry, hard, and leathery-looking. If nerve endings are damaged, the burn may not hurt right away.
For severe burns, call 9-1-1 immediately. Make sure the burned area is no longer exposed to heat or burning materials, but do not attempt to remove any burned clothing. You can cover the affected area in sterile towels or gauze moistened with cool water, but do not submerge large areas of the body in cold water, as it may cause temperature shock or hypothermia.
If you’re not sure of the severity of a burn or are experiencing any of the symptoms of minor burns noted above, such as blistering or blanching, visit your nearest IMC Immediate Medical Care location for immediate medical care. For major burns, or if you or a family member is experiencing severe swelling, dizziness, mental confusion, or trouble breathing, call 9-1-1 immediately.