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  • A burn is a heat, chemical, or electrical injury to the skin

Some Basics...

  • Burns cause damage to the body's tissues, such as the skin. Burns are called first, second, or third degree based on the amount of tissue damage they cause.
  • Chemical burns result from lye, acids, or other tissue-damaging chemicals. If washed off right away, chemicals often only cause first-degree burns.
  • Electrical burns result from electricity passing through the skin.
  • A tetanus shot is sometimes needed after a burn.


Thermal burns are skin injuries caused by heat.

  • Hot water or hot drinks
  • Hot ovens or stoves
  • Electric or kerosene space heaters
  • Exhaust pipes
  • Hot grease
  • Hair curling or clothes irons

Degrees of Burn Severity

There are three levels or degrees of burn severity.

  • The least serious type of burn is a First Degree burn (surface burn). The skin is painful, red and without blisters. This type of burn most often does not need to be seen by a doctor.
  • A Second Degree burn (partial thickness burn) has painful red skin with blisters. These burns heal from the bottom up in 2-3 weeks.
    • Small unbroken blisters (smaller than 2 inch or 5 cm) can be left alone. You do not need to pop or cut off the blister. An unbroken blister helps to stop infection and pain. It acts like a natural adhesive bandage. However, most blisters over 1 inch (2.5 cm) will go on to break open.
    • Large unbroken blisters (wider than 2 inch or 5 cm) most often break open within a couple days. The dead blister skin should be trimmed. This is best done by a doctor or other healthcare provider.
    • Broken blisters need to have the dead blister skin removed. A person can do this at home. Most broken blisters do not have fluid in them. The fluid has all leaked out. The blister skin will look flat or wrinkled.
  • The most serious type of burn is a Third Degree burn (full thickness burn). These are deeper burns with white or charred skin. The burn may be numb to pain and touch. These burns most often need a skin graft if larger than a quarter (1 inch or 2.5 cm). This will help to limit scarring.

When to Call for Burn

Call 911 Now

  • Trouble breathing after being near fire, smoke, or fumes
  • Trouble breathing with burn to the face
  • Second or third degree burn covers a large area
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Blister (unbroken or broken) and larger than 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Blister (unbroken or broken) on the hand and larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm)
  • Blisters (unbroken or broken) on the face, neck, or genitals
  • Burn goes all the way around an arm or leg
  • Caused by very hot substance and center of burn is white (or charred)
  • Caused by electrical current or shock
  • Caused by explosion or gun powder
  • Caused by acid or alkali (lye)
  • Caused by chemical on skin and there is a blister
  • Burn looks infected (spreading redness, red streaks, swelling, or tender to the touch)
  • You think you have a serious burn
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Minor burn of foot or lower leg and have diabetes
  • Minor burn and last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Minor heat or chemical burn
  • Questions about burning feeling from hot peppers

Care Advice

1st Degree Burns or Small Blisters

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Mild burns are first degree burns or small blisters. Hot food and drinks can also cause minor burns on your mouth or lips.
    • You can treat a mild thermal or chemical burn at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cleansing: Wash the burn gently with an antibacterial liquid soap and water 1 time a day.
  3. Broken or Open Blisters:
    • You should remove the dead blister skin for any broken or open blisters.
    • The best way to do this is to gently wipe away the dead skin. You should wipe with some wet gauze or a wet washcloth.
    • If that does not work, trim off the dead skin with small sharp scissors.
  4. Antibiotic Ointment for Broken or Open Blisters:
    • Put antibiotic ointment directly on an adhesive bandage (Band-Aid) or dressing. You should try not to rub ointment directly on the burn.
    • Then put the Band-Aid or dressing over the burn.
    • Change the dressing every other day. Use warm water and 1-2 wipes with a wet washcloth to remove any surface debris.
    • Be gentle with burns.
  5. Unbroken or Closed Blisters:
    • First 7 Days After a Burn: Leave unbroken or closed blisters alone.
    • After 7 Days: You can gently remove the blisters. The best way to do this is gently wipe away the dead skin. You should wipe with some wet gauze or a wet washcloth.
  6. Tetanus Booster Needed Every 5 Years:
    • For a burn, a tetanus booster is recommended if it has been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot.
    • You should try to get a tetanus booster as soon as possible.
    • Try to get the booster within 3 days of the burn or injury.
  7. What To Expect:
    • Burns most often hurt for 2 to 3 days.
    • First Degree Burns: Peel like a sunburn in about a week. The skin should look close to normal after 2 weeks.
    • Second Degree Burns: Blisters most often break open within 7 days. Second degree burns take 14-21 days to heal. After the burn is healed, the skin may look a little darker or lighter than before.
    • Scarring: First and second-degree burns don't leave scars.
  8. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe pain lasts more than 2 hours after taking pain medicine
    • Burn starts to look infected (pus, red streaks, or tender to the touch)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Mouth or Lip Pain from Hot Food or Drink

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Minor burns of the mouth from hot food are most often painful for 2 days.
    • They heal quickly. The lining of the mouth heals 2 times as fast as the skin.
    • You can treat minor burns of the mouth at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Ice:
    • Put a piece of ice in the mouth right away for 10 minutes. This will help with the swelling and pain.
    • Rinse the mouth with ice water every hour for 4 hours.
  3. What to Expect:
    • The pain most often goes away after 2 days.
    • Second degree burns can cause some blisters that quickly turn into shallow ulcers. These take 3-4 days to heal. They normally have a white surface.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Trouble with swallowing
    • Trouble with breathing
    • Pain becomes severe
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Preventing Tetanus

  1. Tetanus Shot: If your last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago, you need a booster. Call your doctor during normal office hours (within the next 3 days).

Burning Feeling from Hot Peppers

  1. Information:
    • Handling Hot Peppers: Certain types of peppers can cause skin irritation and burning pain. This most often goes away without any skin damage. The burning pain should go away within 1 hour.
    • Biting a Hot Pepper: Peppers may cause a painful burning feeling of the skin. The discomfort most often lasts 10-20 minutes. The skin will not blister or be damaged in any way.
  2. Treatment for Skin Pain from Handling Hot Peppers:
    • Wash the skin with soap and warm water to remove the pepper oils.
    • Cover the painful skin area with vegetable oil for 1 hour. For hands and fingers, soak in vegetable oil. It absorbs the pepper oils and will help the pain go away. If you do not have vegetable oil, you can try using milk or cream. Dairy products will also absorb the pepper oil. Dairy products that are "fat-free" will not work.
  3. Treatment for Mouth Pain from Eating Hot Peppers:
    • Rinse your mouth a few times with milk or cream. Milk that is "fat-free" will not work.
    • Dairy products will absorb the pepper oil and help the pain go away.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain lasts more than 1 hour
    • Blisters appear
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 8/19/2019 1:00:25 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:22 AM

Copyright 2000-2019 Health Navigator, LLC. All rights reserved.

Burn - First Degree

The photo shows a 6 inch (15 cm) wide area of mild redness without blistering on the forearm. This thermal burn was caused by spilled hot water.

First Aid Care Advice:

  • Immediately put the burned part in cold tap water or pour cold water over it for 10 minutes or cover with a cold wet washcloth.
  • Reason: this lessens the depth of the burn and relieves pain.
First Aid - Burn - Thermal
  • Immediately put the burned part in cold tap water or pour cool water over it for 10 minutes (Reason: lessen the depth of the burn and relieve the pain) .
  • For burns on the face, apply a cold wet washcloth.
  • Do this immediately (don't take time to remove clothing).

Note: A thermal burn is any burn caused by heat.

First Aid - Burn - Electrical
  • Immediately apply an ice cube wrapped in a wet washcloth to the burn for 20 minutes.
  • You can also use a bag of ice wrapped in a wet washcloth.

Note: An electrical burn is any burn caused by electricity.

First Aid - Burn - Chemical
  • Remove any contaminated clothing.
  • Brush any dry chemical off the skin.
  • Flush the chemical off the skin with warm water for 10 minutes.
  • For large areas, use the shower.
Burn - Second Degree

This shows a second degree burn that is caused by heat. The burn area is swollen and bulging with blisters.

First Aid Care Advice:

  • Immediately put the burned part in cold tap water or pour cold water over it for 10 minutes. Reason: lessens the depth of the burn and relieves pain.
  • Cover with a cold wet washcloth and seek emergency care.

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