Burns are one of the most common household injuries, so knowing
how to treat burns and when to call for medical assistance is important.
Burns fall into three classifications: first-, second-, and third-degree
burns. First-degree burns remain on the surface of the skin and
tend to appear red. Sunburns are usually first-degree burns. Although
first-degree burns can cause great pain, they seldom result in lasting
problems or require medical attention.
Second-degree burns probe deeper into the skin and result in blistering
or splitting of the skins layers. Very severe sunburns and scalding
are common instances of second-degree burns. Like first-degree burns,
second-degree burns rarely cause lasting problems or scarring, but
the pain can be intense. These burns can be treated at home if they
don't cover a large area on the body (larger than the patients hand).
Third-degree burns destroy all layers of the skin and extend into
deeper tissues. These burns are actually painless because the nerve
endings have been destroyed. Third-degree burns result in scarring,
infection, and fluid loss, and should be seen by a doctor immediately.
Skin grafts are often needed to repair these deep burns.
To treat a burn at home, apply cold water or compress immediately.
The cold water or ice eases the pain and reduces the amount of skin
damage. Apply the cold for at least five minutes. You can keep cold
on the burn for up to an hour to ease the pain, but don't go longer
than an hour because frostbite could occur. If pain subsists, use
a pain reliever such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
If the burn has caused blisters, be careful to avoid breaking or
puncturing them. Blisters often break on their own, and when they
do, allow the overlying skin to remain on the blister. It acts as
a wet dressing, keeping the new skin clean and protecting it as
it toughens up.
Don't use anesthetic creams or sprays; they may actually slow healing.
Antibiotic creams, such as Bacitracin and Neosporin, neither help
nor hinder healing. Its best to keep the burn and blisters clean
and allow them to heal on their own.
Chemical substances, such as lye and acids, can cause serious burns
when in contact with bare skin. Brush any dry chemical substance
off the skin and remove contaminated clothing. Wash the burn with
large amounts of water and soap. Call the local poison control;
there may be an antidote for the substance that caused the burn.
If the patient seems to be having trouble breathing, take him or
her to the emergency room, as this could indicate a lung injury
from inhalation of caustic fumes.
Electrical burns often result from small children playing with electrical
outlets. If an electrical burn occurs, immediately disconnect the
power source and pull the victim away from the source using a dry,
non-metallic object such as a broom, rope, chair, or cushion. Don't
use your bare hands. Begin CPR if the person isn't breathing. All
electrical burns should be seen by a physician, so take the victim
to the emergency room immediately.
Prevention is always the best medicine, and there are many things
you can do to avoid burns in your home. Spend an evening with your
family explaining how to avoid burns. Be sure to mention the following:
- Keep matches out of reach of children and babies.
- Don't allow garbage to accumulate.
- If you're near a fireplace or stove, don't wear baggy clothing
or long sleeves, which could catch fire.
- Check electrical cords regularly for loose connections or worn
- Keep space heaters out of reach of children, and make sure they
turn off automatically if toppled or placed against something
- Put fire extinguishers in areas where fire risk is greatest:
kitchens, furnace room, near a fireplace or wood stove.
- Check smoke detectors regularly.
- Hold fire drills.
- Keep caustic chemicals in safe containers and away from children.
- Use sunscreen religiously.
- Don't allow anyone to smoke in bed.
Ensuring that your home is safe will dramatically decrease your
risk for burns. Even after you teach your family about burn prevention,
make sure they know how to treat a burn. You can't be too prepared.