How to recognize and treat a burn blister
People should avoid popping or damaging a burn blister. These blisters are the body's way of protecting the underlying burnt skin while it heals.
In this article, learn more about burn blisters. We also cover first aid, home remedies, and medical treatments for burns.
What is a burn blister?
A person should not try to burst a burn blister.
A burn blister is a covering of skin that forms over a burnt area of the body to protect it from infection.
Burn blisters can form over mild to severe burns, and people should try to leave the blister intact until the burn underneath heals.
Some basic first aid may help prevent a burn blister from forming, by reducing the skin damage.
People can use first aid to help ease pain and reduce complications from burning. Doing basic first aid may prevent a large blister from forming.
For minor burns:
- run the burn under cool water for 10 minutes
- gently pat the burn dry with a clean cloth or paper towel
- cover the burn with a sterile, nonstick dressing
People should not try to treat the skin by:
- placing ice directly on a burn, as this can reduce circulation
- using any food products on burns, such as butter, as this can trap heat in the burn
- applying cotton wool, as this can stick to the burn and may cause an infection
People may wish to take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, may help ease any discomfort.
If someone has a serious burn, they should call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately. While waiting for medical help, they should:
- raise the burnt area above heart level if possible
- apply a damp, cool, clean cloth to the burnt area
- lie flat, raise the feet, and keep the rest of the body warm to prevent shock
- do not treat a severe burn with cold water, as it can cause shock
Home remedies for burn blisters
Sunscreen may help prevent burnt skin from scarring.
People should try not to pop any blisters, as the blister is a natural barrier the body forms to protect against infection.
A blister may form even under the dressing. While some people find them uncomfortable or unsightly, it is best to take a hands-off approach.
If the blister breaks, clean the burn area carefully with warm water and mild soap.
People should protect burnt areas from the sun, as burnt skin is more sensitive to direct sunlight. Applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more can also help to prevent scarring.
People with minor burns are often able to treat these injuries at home. A doctor can also provide treatments, such as:
- applying antibiotic cream to the burn
- covering the burn in a bandage or dressing that contains silver, which can help prevent infection
- checking that the burn is healing correctly and has no signs of infection
People with more severe burns will need medical attention. A doctor may treat severe burns by:
- maintaining blood pressure and preventing shock by giving a person extra fluids
- removing that burnt skin
- performing a skin graft by transplanting healthy skin onto the burnt area
Types of burns
There are different types of burns that range from mild to severe and affect different layers of the skin.
A first-degree burn affects the top layer of skin, or epidermis. First-degree burns are minor and do not often cause burn blisters.
First-degree burns may feel painful, look red, and may swell slightly. A sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn, or if skin touches something hot very briefly.
People will usually be able to treat first-degree burns at home and find that the burn heals within a week.
Second-degree burns are slightly deeper, reaching the second layer of skin, which doctors call the dermis. Second-degree burns look red and often create burn blisters. Second-degree burns can range from mild to severe.
People with mild second-degree burns will usually be able to treat their burn at home. The burn or blister may need medical attention if it is large, causes severe pain, or becomes infected.
Third-degree burns are severe, as they damage both the first and second layers of skin, and can damage the tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands that lie under the skin.
People with severe burns may not experience any pain, as the burn can cause nerve damage. These burns may appear white, black, or brown. They can form blisters as part of the healing process.
People with third-degree burns need urgent medical attention.
Fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-degree burns
Higher-level burns are very severe, as the damage goes deeper into the body. These burns extend into the body and can reach fat, muscle, tendons, joints, and bone.
People with these higher-level burns need immediate medical attention. An injury of this degree may result in the loss of the burnt body part.
Being careful with pan handles while cooking can help prevent burns.
People can help protect themselves and others from burns by taking care with hot liquids and food items to prevent scalding. People should also put safety measures in place in case of a fire.
Ways to help prevent burning include:
- keeping hot liquids out of reach of children
- turning pan handles away from the front of the stove, so people are less likely to knock them over
- installing smoke alarms on every floor of the home, within hearing range of all room where people sleep
- testing once a month that smoke alarms are working
- making sure everyone in the house knows the escape plan in the event of a fire
- keeping harmful chemicals out of reach of children
- keeping the water heater set to 120°F or lower
- covering the skin in direct sunlight and wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn
People may be able to prevent a minor burn from worsening by running it under cool water for at least 10 minutes immediately after burning.
When to see a doctor
Most minor burns heal without medical treatment, usually within a week, and a person will not need to see a doctor.
People should see a doctor if a minor burn:
- is bigger than 4 inches
- becomes infected
- is a dark, shiny red
- has lots of blistering
People should also see a doctor if the burn is on any of the following areas of the body:
- major joint
If the burn is severe, people should seek medical help immediately. A severe burn may be:
- dry and leathery
- black, brown, or white
People should also seek emergency help if:
- it is an electrical or chemical burn
- the person with the burn is a young child or older adult
- the person with the burn goes into shock
People can treat mild burns at home by cooling the burn then applying a nonstick sterile dressing.
People should try not to burst or pop any blisters, as this could increase the risk of infection and slow the healing process.
People should seek immediate medical attention for more serious burns and follow their doctor's instructions for aftercare at home.
Some of the home remedies listed in this article are available for purchase online.