Being burned is a modern world reality. Not all of us have had a dislocated shoulder or severe lacerations, but I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this has been burned at least once.
I find it interesting that there’s typically so much advice/discussion within the scope of first aid revolving around cuts and fractures, but burns that can be even more painful and debilitating are rarely ever discussed.
What makes this lack of discussion even more interesting to me is just how simple it is to cover the entirety of the topic of burn treatment with regards to soothing and healing burns. As a spoiler – there really aren’t all that many aspects to burn treatment you’ll need to remember to have all your bases covered. In fact, identifying the degree of the burn is likely the most difficult step, and it really isn’t all that difficult to do at all. Treatment and steps to help along healing are no-brainers to remember once you’ve read through the how-to list once.
But we’ll start with the most important step – making sure you don’t have a third degree burn. Because in cases where you or the person you’re trying to help does have one, it’s important you do absolutely everything you can to get medical help straight away.
Burn Treatment Step #1: Make Sure You Don’t Have a Third Degree Burn
I’ve spoken about how to identify the difference between first, second, and third degree burns here, but there’s no harm in a repeat for a quick refresher.
First degree burns (the most mild form of heat-based injuries), you can soothe and treat in your own home and are not a problem to take care of yourself. Chances are high that if you’ve had burns before, they’ve all or at least most been first degree burns. Outwardly, first degree burns can look more like a bad rash or skin irritation. The tell tale sign is the out layer of the skin will be red and painful to the touch; the emphasis being on red.
Why? If your burn is blistering, it falls under the category of a second degree burn. The basic treatment is the same, and again you can take care of it at home, but the severity and risk of infection due to blisters and the lack of protection from your epidermis (the first layer of skin) is higher than with first degree burns. Still, you are fine if you’d like to take care of a second degree burn yourself in the comfort of your own home (unless you notice some sort of infection – in which case, get to an E.R. ASAP).
Third degree burns are serious. You don’t take your chances at home with a third degree burn. You need to get yourself to an E.R. if you have a suspicion what you have is not a first or second degree burn. The general gist when it comes to ascertaining if a burn is a third degree burn comes down to two factors:
- What percentage of your body was burned in terms of total surface area.
If the burn covers 1% or more of the skin on your body (about the size of the palm of your hand), get your butt to the E.R. pronto as you may have third degree burns, and thus may need skin grafts as quickly as possible to avoid extreme scarring (this will depend on the severity of the burn).
- How deep the burn was.
Third degree burns impact both layers of the epidermis (i.e. they often burn deep) and are likely to also involve damage to the nerves, fat, muscles, sweat glands, and blood vessels. If your burn looks quite deep, and you think it went past the two layers of the epidermis, don’t take a risk, get yourself to an emergency room as soon as you can.
Third degree burns are extremely rare. It’s unlikely to happen to you, but if it does or you suspect your burn even might be a third degree burn, get off your computer/phone and go to the E.R. Now.
I cannot emphasize enough how serious third degree burns are and how important it is to get your a** over to the emergency as soon as possible. Time is of the essence here, people! The skin will not heal without a skin graft (artificial or transferred). People rarely associate burns with surgery, but if the damage is so extensive – this is what is likely necessary for healing to take place.
Need more depth on this topic? Again, you can check out my article on first, second, and third degree burns here.
Now on to how to treat the other two types of burns yourself.
Burn Treatment Step #2: How to Soothe First & Second Degree Burns
If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably already know exactly how to soothe a burn.
It’s likely instinctive for you; if you burned yourself, you would immediately make your way over to the washroom or kitchen, wherever nearest water tap in the house happens to be, run the tap on cold, and hold your hand (or whatever body part happened to have been burned) under the cold, running water for some time. Running water will not only cool both the skin and surrounding tissue quickly, but also offer a degree of pain relief. In the case of second degree burns, running cold water over a burn can feel a smidgen painful initially, but keep at it and you will feel relief.
After this, the reality is that all you can do is pop a painkiller (Tylenol/Acetaminophen and Advil/Ibuprofen should both work), keep your skin cool with ice (wrapped in a towel), and finally, slather hydrogel or aloe vera liberally over the burned skin.
Hydrogel and aloe vera gel can be a lifesaver and I promise that whilst you may think it’s not important to have such options available because they don’t really help the healing process in any way (these substances primarily just make dealing with the pain of a burn more comfortable for you), the reality is that you or whomever happened to be burned who you are helping out by applying these substances to will be immensely grateful, as they work wonders for nearly immediate pain relief.
So to summarize:
Methods You Can Use to Soothe Burns
- Run your burn under cold water from a tap
- Wrap ice in a towel and hold this on the burn
- Pop a pain killer to help deal with the pain (Tylenol/Acetaminophen or Advil/Ibuprofen)
- Slather hydrogel or aloe vera liberally on the burn
Burn Treatment Step #3: How to Heal First & Second Degree Burns
Unfortunately, while you have a few different options for soothing a burn, you don’t have many for treating.
Why? You can’t heal your burns, only your body can, and that takes time!
And so, sadly, the only real advice with regards to healing burns can be summarized in a few short tips.
How to Heal Burns:
- Do not prod or touch your burns or blisters (if you have any)
- Continue to slather hydrogel or aloe vera liberally on your burn
Sorry folks, no easy solutions here. As for the time it takes (defined by the time the epidermis can heal) for recovery;
First degree: 10 days.
Second degree: 20-60 days.
Third degree: (Which, again, you should not be trying to heal yourself – to the E.R. with you already if you suspect you have third degree burns!). Potentially years. No real quick answer when it comes to third degree burns as every case will be different and heavily dependent on how the skin grafts took and the total affected surface area of the skin.
More First Aid Resources
When it comes to first aid, you need two important things to help you on your quest to keep yourself and those around you safe & healthy: knowledge and (to a lesser extent) supplies. To tackle the prior, take a look through our list of the top 22 emergency & survival first aid books and grab those that you think will best help you gain the knowledge you’ll need. For the latter, take a look at our Ultimate First Aid Supplies List to see if there’s anything you should be adding to your at-home first aid supplies stockpile, or if there’s something you’ve forgotten to add to one of your first aid kits.
Do you know what the maximum recommended doses of common painkillers are, whether to use Advil, Tylenol, or Aspirin, and how to quickly assess and address emergency situations? Did you know you can superglue cuts and are you aware of how to identify and pop back in a dislocated shoulder?
If you’re interested and have some time, quickly browse through the first aid articles & tutorials on this blog to learn more about first aid.
Your Experience With Burn Treatment?
Growing up the only advice concerning burns I can remember being given were to run the affected area under cold water (which to be fair, is solid advice), but no mention of hydrogel or aloe vera for relief.
Was it the same in your home? Do you have hydrogel or aloe in your home now? Be honest! My first aid cabinet had medical splints and butterfly clips long before I had anything to deal with burns, and frankly, I am likely to need the Hydrogel far more than a splint.
Any more advice/stories about treating burns? Leave a comment below to let me know.