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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | October 22, 2017

Real Tips for Treating A Burn

I haven’t posted an article for some time due to a burn I sustained on my hand. As is the case with most accidents, it happened when my mind momentarily left me and I instinctively reached out to grab something hot. The problem was compounded when at the moment my mind registered the crazy pain, (again, not thinking) I put my burning finger into my mouth. I then promptly burned my mouth on the still burning object stuck to my hand. While the whole experience probably only took 15 seconds before I managed to generate an intelligent plan and get myself to the kitchen sink with cold water, the damage was done. I had a second degree burn the length of my finger (and a burning mouth). I spent the whole night with my finger on a cold pack and experiencing new-found empathy for my burn patients. So what can you do when your child sustains a burn?

Take immediate action with a burn

  1. Get the burning object away/off the child (e.g., get the burning iron that has fallen on the child off, or grab the curling iron from the child’s hand).
  2. Put the burned body part in cold water (for a small child, this is usually a hand). Inevitably, your child will be screaming. Continue to hold the burned part in the stream of cold water at the sink. Most burns happen at your house and a sink is the quickest way to get the immediate burning to stop.
  3. Assess the damage while staying under running water (i.e., the cold of the water will help with the immediate pain).

Degrees of burn

  1. First degree burns are typically red and limited to the top layer of skin (the epidermis). Don’t be fooled by the name, first degree burns can really hurt.
  2. Second degree burns (partial thickness burns) involve deeper layers of the skin. They are often marked by swelling and blistering of the skin. These burns are crazy painful. The blisters can appear within minutes (as in my case) or within hours.
  3. Third degree burns (full thickness burns) are the deepest of the burns. They happen when skin is burned off (think white or black charred skin) and affect deeper tissues in the body. Supposedly, the skin may be numb with third degree burns, but I’m not so sure I believe that (I have to think it hurts). The burns look terrible and often have other degrees of burns associated with them.
  4. Fourth degree burns (deepest and most severe). These burns are often life threatening and destroy all layers of skin, bones, muscles, and tendons.

Treatment of burns

The treatment approach entirely depends on the degree of burns, amount of involvement, and location of the burn.

  • First degree burns are usually treated by cooling the area and managing pain (e.g., Tylenol).
  • Second degree burns may need an antibiotic ointment (often Silver Sulfadiazine, a.k.a. Silvadene, which is a prescription cream) to help prevent infection. Pain management is a big part of treatment.
  • Third degree burns usually need IV antibiotics, IV fluids, and skin grafting. All third degree burns should have the care of a medical doctor.
  • Fourth degree burns also need the immediate care of a medical team at a properly equipped hospital.

DO NOT tips

  • Do NOT put butter on burns (it will trap the heat) and make it worse.
  • Do NOT pop blisters. (The blister is the best wound cover the body can make, better than anything we can make in medicine.)

Seek medical care if

  1. The burn involves a large amount of area
  2. The burn is deep
  3. The burn is over a sensitive or very involved body part (e.g., private body parts, hands, face, etc.)
  4. The pain is severe and uncontrollable
  5. Your parent instinct tells you this is bad

Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with any burns in your children. But if your house is anything like the Wonnacott’s house, chances are you will. Good luck!