Often, minor burns and scalds can be treated with home remedies. Other times, they require immediate medical attention.
When a burn happens, it is important for a person to know whether they can treat it at home or whether they should see a doctor for immediate medical attention.
In this article, we take a look at when people can treat their burns at home, and some remedies that may help.
Contents of this article:
When can a burn be treated at home?
A first- or second-degree burn may usually be treated well at home. Third- and fourth-degree burns require medical attention.
Burns are classified according to the severity. Scalds are burns caused by a hot liquid and are rated in the same way. Doctors often describe burns in terms of degree.
There are four typical degrees used to describe burns. These degrees are:
- First degree: the least severe burn, which affects only the outer layer of skin.
- Second degree: the second-least severe burn, which affects deeper layers of skin.
- Third degree: second-most severe burn, which affects all layers of the skin.
- Fourth degree: the most severe burn, which causes damage to bones and joints.
First- and second-degree burns can often be treated at home. Usually, there are no complications and healing will occur with minimal intervention.
A first-degree burn will typically heal within 7 to 10 days. A second-degree burn usually heals within 2 to 3 weeks. A person should watch for signs of additional infection that may require further medical attention.
Typical signs and symptoms of first-degree burns are:
- tenderness or pain
- minor swelling
- peeling as the burn heals
Signs of second-degree burns include:
- extreme redness
- very sore or painful skin
- blisters that may break and ooze
Eight home remedies to treat burns
Running cool water over the burn or scald immediately after it occurs is a well-known and effective treatment.
There are many potential home remedies for burns that people can try. Unfortunately, some suggested remedies are not effective and can potentially cause the burn to get worse.
Home remedies to use to effectively and safely treat first-degree and second-degree burns at home include the following:
1. Running the burn under cool water
Running cool water over a first-degree or second-degree burn can both soothe and prevent further injury from the burn.
Running cool water over the burn for about 20 minutes will cool the skin down. This remedy does two things. It reduces or removes the pain from the burn. It also stops the burn from getting worse and affecting deeper levels of the skin.
2. Clean the burn
After running the burn under cool water, it is essential to clean the burn thoroughly. People should use a mild antibacterial soap and not scrub.
Cleaning the burn will help prevent infection, which can complicate the healing of the burn and require medical attention.
Minor first-degree burns are not likely to require a bandage. Even second-degree burns with unopened blisters may not need a bandage.
If the position of the burn is likely to cause chafing or means that dirt can easily get in, however, a bandage may be needed. In the case of oozing blisters, covering the burn with a bandage can help prevent dirt or infections from getting into the burn.
It is important to wrap the burn loosely and not apply sticky bandages directly on the wound itself.
When a burn has open blisters, a person may want to use antibiotic creams and ointments. Antibiotic creams may help prevent the wound from getting infected and help the burn heal faster.
5. Over-the-counter pain medications
Even first-degree and second-degree burns are painful until they heal. A person may wish to take medication to help reduce the pain and swelling.
Ibuprofen is a good choice as both a pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory drug.
6. Stay out of the sun
Keeping a burn shaded when outside can help reduce both pain and the risk of worsening the burn.
If a person cannot avoid the sun, wearing loose-fitting clothing that covers the wound may help.
7. Aloe vera
Aloe vera is commonly available in many creams and moisturizers.
Aloe vera has shown some potential promise in treating burns. The plant is a natural anti-inflammatory, promoting circulation and has antibacterial properties that stop bacteria from growing.
Studies have shown that honey has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Honey bandages may help sterilize a burn and prevent infection. It can also soothe burned skin, easing some of the pain.
Remedies to avoid and why
While coconut oil is a popular remedy for a range of skin conditions, it should not be used to treat burns.
Unfortunately, many burn treatments that are ineffective and could even make a burn worse have been passed down from generation to generation.
Some of these remedies are commonly known while others are not. Either way, the following suggested treatments should not be used:
Many people have claimed that essential oils and some common cooking oils, such as coconut and olive oil, are helpful for burns. However, oils trap heat, preventing the heat from the burn escaping. Trapping the heat can cause the burn to get worse instead of better.
Essential oils are often boasted to heal all kinds of skin and other conditions. Some research supports their use, but this comes from small-scale studies. No large-scale human studies have been carried out to examine the association between essential oil use and sunburn healing.
Many people think that rubbing butter over a burn will help a burn heal. Despite its popularity, butter acts in a similar way to other oils in that it keeps heat in and may cause the burn to get worse.
No evidence supports the use of butter as a burn treatment.
Some people believe spreading an uncooked egg white on a burn will help relieve the pain. However, there is no evidence that uncooked egg helps. In fact, it is more likely that the egg will aide in spreading bacteria to the burn.
Many people turn to ice before cool water to help with a burn, thinking that the cold temperature of the ice will do a more effective job in cooling the burned skin.
However, ice can cause more harm than good and can irritate the burned skin further. In some extreme cases, a person may experience a cold burn from exposure to the ice.
Some people believe applying toothpaste to a burn site can help. In fact, the unsterile toothpaste may actually help spread bacteria into the burn.
When to see a doctor
Although first-degree and second-degree burns do not typically require medical attention, there are a few signs to look out for. It is important to monitor first-degree burns as they may be second-degree with more damage showing up after a few hours.
If a person experiences a second-degree burn or higher, they should seek medical attention for the burn.
Things to look out for include:
- a burn that covers an area of skin larger than 3 inches
- burns around joints such as knees and elbows
- a burn that affects the face, groin, feet, hands, or buttocks
Third-degree and fourth-degree burns require immediate medical attention. These burns are typically considered life-threatening. A person should not try home remedies when the burn is that severe.
Most people with first-degree and second-degree burns will make a full recovery in a short time.
During this time, a person should take care to keep the burn clean. If a person suspects infection, the wound covers a large area, or it does not heal within a reasonable amount of time, they should seek medical attention for further treatment.