In most burns, the most important step is to cool the skin quickly so that the deeper layers do not continue to burn and cause injury.
However, depending on the degree of the burn, you may need to follow different cautions, especially if it is a 3rd degree burn, which should be evaluated as soon as possible by a doctor in a hospital to avoid serious complications such as nerve or muscle damage.
What to do in 1st degree burns
First degree burns affect the superficial layer of the skin causing symptoms like pain and redness in the region. In these cases it is recommended that you:
- Place the burned area under cold water for at least 15 minutes;
- Keep a clean and damp cloth with cold water in the area for the first 24 hours, changing whenever the water warms up;
- Do not apply any product like oil or butter on the burn;
- Put a moisturizing or healing ointment for burns, such as Bepanthen or Metronidazole. See a more complete list of ointments used to treat burns.
This type of burn is more common when you stay in the sun for a long time or when you touch a very hot object. Usually the pain disappears after 2 or 3 days, but the burn may take up to 2 weeks to heal, even with the use of ointments.
Generally, 1st degree burns do not leave any type of scar on the skin and rarely present complications.
What to do in 2nd degree burns
Second degree burns affects the middle layers of the skin, so other than redness and pain, other symptoms such as blisters or local swelling may appear. In this type of burn it is recommended that you:
- Place the affected area under running cold water for at least 15 minutes;
- Wash the burn carefully with cold water and neutral pH soap, avoiding rubbing with too much force;
- Cover the area with a wet gauze or a lot of petroleum jelly, and attach a bandage, during the first 48 hours, changing whenever necessary;
- Do not pierce the blisters and do not apply any product in the region to avoid the risk of infection;
- Seek medical attention if the blister is too big.
This burn is more frequent when the heat source is in contact with the skin for a longer period of time, such as when you spill hot water on your clothes or hold something warm for a long time, for example.
In most cases, the pain improves after 3 days, but the burn scar may take up to 3 weeks to disappear. Although second-degree burns rarely leave scars, the skin may become lighter in the region.
What to do in 3rd degree burns
3rd degree burns are the most serious and can be life-threatening as the deeper layers of the skin are affected, including nerves, blood vessels and muscles. Therefore, in this case it is recommended that you:
- Immediately call an ambulance by calling 911 (US) or 999 (UK) or take the person to the hospital quickly;
- Cool the burned region with saline solution or, if you have none, use tap water for about 10 minutes;
- Carefully place a sterile gauze and moisten with saline or a clean cloth over the affected area until medical help arrives. If the burned area is very big, you can wrap the region with a clean sheet moistened with saline solution;
- Do not place any type of product on the affected region.
In some cases, a 3rd degree burn can be so severe that it causes failure in several organs. In these cases, if the victim passes out and stops breathing, cardiac massage should be started.
Since all layers of the skin are affected, the nerves, glands, muscles and even internal organs can suffer serious injuries. In this type of burn you may not feel pain due to nerve destruction, but immediate medical help is needed to avoid serious complications as well as infections.
What not to do
After you have suffered a burn it is very important to know what to do to relieve symptoms quickly, but you should also know what not to do, especially to avoid complications or lesions. Therefore, it is advised that you:
- Do not attempt to remove objects or clothes stuck to the burnt skin;
- Do not put butter, toothpaste, coffee, salt or other homemade products;
- Do not burst bubbles that appear after the burn;
Also, do not apply gel on the skin, as extreme cold besides causing irritation, can worsen the burn and even cause a shock due to the great difference in temperatures.
When to go to the hospital
Most burns can be treated at home, however, it is recommended you go to the hospital when the burn is larger than the palm of your hand, many blisters appear or it is a third degree burn that affects the deeper layers of the skin.
In addition, if the burn also occurs in sensitive areas such as hands, feet, genitals or the face, you should also go to the hospital.