About Burns: Treatment and Prevention

Treatment decisions are based on the need to relieve pain, reduce swelling, prevent infection, and promote healing. A physician should be consulted if second-degree burns cover more than 10% to 15% of the body surface or if third-degree burns suspected. Also, if the eyes, ears, face or feet are involved, it is important to seek medical attention. However, if these parts haven't been affected, or if there's no blistering, medical attention may not be necessary.

For first-degree (minor) burns, cool moist compresses should be applied immediately. The cool compresses may reduce the swelling and pain. Don't exert pressure on the burned skin. Although no dressing is required, a light dressing may aid the discomfort. A water-based skin moisturizer may be applied if no blisters form, to help the skin heal.

For second-degree burns, the skin should be placed in cool water. If the skin is broken, it should be gently washed by rinsing well with a saline solution. Everyone who develops blisters on their burns should see a doctor. Treating blisters is somewhat controversial. Some physicians believe that blisters are a protective barrier for the burn. Others feel that the trapped fluid in the blister can become infected. It's important to see a physician so that blister care can be provided. ASA (Aspirin®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®) can be taken to help relieve any pain or swelling.

In the case of severe, third-degree burns, emergency medical services should be called immediately. The goal is to prevent infection (one of the most significant problems in burn victims), remove dead tissue, and cover the wound with skin as soon as possible. Cold water should not be applied and clothing that's stuck to the burn shouldn't be removed. Cover the burn loosely with a clean, dry dressing such as a handkerchief, pillowcase, or a sheet. It's important to keep the person warm.

People with electrical burns should always see a doctor. Although they may appear superficial, there may be damage to deeper tissues that is not immediately evident. Also, these people may be at risk for cardiac arrhythmias for 72 hours after being burned electrically.

In all cases, do not - as folklore suggests - apply butter or margarine. These won't relieve pain and may increase the burning sensation. If blisters form and break, it may also lead to infection.

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