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Dos and Don’ts of Burn First-Aid

Burns are common personal injuries that can range considerably in severity. Burns are categorized into three degrees based on this severity, with third-degree burns being the most serious distinction that causes the greatest harm. First-degree burns only affect the outermost part of the skin, second-degree burns affect both the outer and lower layer of the skin and typically result in swelling and blistering, and third-degree burns go through the lower layer of skin and affect deeper tissue, often damaging nerves and leaving the skin white or blackened. Understanding the type of burn that occurred can help you determine the type of first aid to apply and the immediacy of help needed.

In addition, despite the frequency with which burns occur, many people are misinformed about how to treat them, and can sometimes worsen the burn in an attempt to treat it. Below is a non-exhaustive list of dos and don’ts when applying first-aid to a fresh burn.

  • Do treat first-degree burns with antibiotic ointment and loosely cover with gauze. Antibiotic ointment can be easily be found at most drug stores and is handy to have around the house for various injuries. This is usually all the treatment that first-degree burns require.
  • Don’t put butter on the burn to soothe the pain. An old home remedy for burns involves slathering the burn with butter to reduce pain, but butter and other greasy substances cause the burn to retain more heat, which can increase the severity of the burn. Alternatively, run the burn under cold water for a safe soothing effect.
  • Do rinse the burn with water but don’t use ice or ice water. Running cool water over a new burn will lower the temperature of the skin and prevent the burn from worsening. You should do this until much of the pain subsides, sometimes up to half an hour. Be careful not to use ice or ice water, however, which can result in tissue damage and even cause frostbite in severe cases.
  • Don’t burst any blisters. Bursting blisters increases your risk for infection, which is already elevated with the contraction of a burn. Signs of infection include pus emerging from the burn, extension or growth of the burn, discoloration of the burn, and fever.
  • Do seek immediate medical attention for second and third-degree burns. Third-degree burns especially should not be treated at home as they may involve the need for medical techniques such as skin grafting, antibiotics, and IVs, and can result in the victim’s death if not properly treated.

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If you or a loved one has been wrongfully burned or otherwise injured due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior of another person or party, you may be entitled to compensation to help pay for medical bills, supplement for lost time at work, and mitigate emotional distress. If you have any questions or would like to set up an appointment with a qualified Louisville personal injury attorney, please contact Sampson Law Firm at (502) 584-5050 today.

Burn Injury First Aid FAQs

Why shouldn’t I apply ice to my burn?

Many people mistakenly apply ice to burns because it feels soothing, but ice can cause more harm than good in burn cases. Ice should not be applied to burns as it may cause nerve damage and frostbite, especially with more severe burns where the nerve may already be exposed. Using ice after the initial burn may slow the healing the process further and cause more damage to the surrounding skin. Instead of ice, run cold water over the burn for several minutes following the initial burn. If you are unsure of first aid after a burn, it is always best to seek medical attention.

Do I need a tetanus shot?

If the burn is a second or third degree burn and you are not up to date with your tetanus shot, you should get a tetanus shot within the first two days of contracting your burn. Burns are serious injuries and secondary infections from burns are common. Tetanus is caused by the organism Clostridium tetani, and large open wounds caused by burns are good breeding ground for the bacteria, which can lead to tetanus. Tetanus is a bacterial infection characterized by painful muscle spasms and lockjaw and can even lead to death. It is recommended to have a tetanus shot at least every ten years to reduce risk of this infection and is particularly necessary in instances of injury such as burns.

How can I tell how serious my burn is?

You can determine the severity of your burn and how much first aid is needed by the appearance of the burn and your symptoms. There are three categories of burns based on their severity: first, second, and third degree burns. First degree burns only affect the outermost layer of the skin, will appear red and potentially swollen, but will not produce blisters. First degree burns can usually be treated at home. Second degree burns are more serious than first degree and will produce painful blisters and swelling. Second degree burns usually require medical attention. Third degree burns are the most severe type of burns and may appear black, white, or charred and may result in nerve damage. Third degree burns can be fatal and those affected should seek medical attention immediately. If you are having trouble determining the severity of your burn, it is best to seek professional medical attention.