By Larry Buglino, DO
With summer around the corner and all the fun activities that come with it, like campfires, fireworks and sunny days, it’s important to be mindful of potential burn injuries. Burns can have a variety of causes such as sun exposure, open flame, hot water, chemicals or electricity. The severity of the burn will determine the treatment but if you are ever concerned you should seek medical attention immediately.
First-degree burns are also known as superficial burns. The skin is still intact with these burns and appears red, swollen and is very painful. Mild sunburns are an example of first-degree burns. These burns can usually be treated at home with basic first aid, however, here are some important things to remember.
- First, cool the wound with running water but do not use cold water or ice. Cold water and ice will only worsen the tissue injury.
- Remove all jewelry, watches, rings and clothing.
- The burn can be wrapped loosely with sterile bandages.
- You can also apply aloe vera to the burn to help soothe it. Do not apply butter, cream or other home remedies as this may trap heat in and worsen the injury.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- If you ever become concerned or have any questions, seek medical attention immediately.
You should see complete resolution of these burns in seven to 10 days.
Second-degree burns are also known as partial thickness burns and cause injury to the skin. These wounds are red, more swollen and form blisters. These burns are also very painful. Some small second-degree burns (less than 4 cm) may be treated as superficial burns but larger burns or any burn of the face, hands, feet, groin or burns over joints, need to be evaluated by a physician. These burns do have a higher risk of becoming infected and can also scar. Failure to seek medical attention with these burns could result in more serious injury or tightened skin or tough scars that may limit your mobility. With good care, these burns should heal within three weeks.
Third-degree burns are serious burns and always require evaluation by a medical professional immediately. These burns are full thickness burns and damage all layers of the skin. The burn will look charred, blackened or white. There will be swelling but there may not be any pain within the third-degree burn as all the nerves have been destroyed. These burns have the highest risk of infection and scarring and may require surgical removal of the burn and skin grafting to allow it to heal.
Size and Depth
If you do need to go to the emergency department for evaluation, the physician will evaluate the size and depth of the burn. The burn will be gently cleaned so the physician can evaluate the extent of injury.
For partial thickness and smaller burns the physician will recommend bandages and ointments to keep the burn moist and to protect against infection. Topical antimicrobial ointments may also be used.
Some larger burns will need evaluation by a surgeon and may be treated locally but other burns will need to be managed at specialized centers for treating burns. The Oregon Burn Center in Portland, Oregon, is the closest center to the Willamette Valley.
These burns recommend transfer to a regional burn center:
- Second-degree burns of more than 10-percent of your total body surface area
- Second or third-degree burns of the face, hands, feet, groin joints
- Electrical burns
- Inhalation burns
- Significant burn associated with other major trauma
- Partial or full thickness burn in children
No matter what type of burn, the best treatment is always prevention.
- Always use sunscreen and remember to reapply the longer you are outside.
- Never smoke while using home oxygen or you risk an inhalation burn.
- Be aware of the potential for injury around open flame and hot surfaces.
- Make sure you check water temperature in tubs and keep boiling water away from the reach of children.
The American Burn Association reports that of the serious burns treated in the hospital, 43 percent are from fire or flames and 34 percent are from scalds.
If you do suffer a burn and are concerned, please contact a physician right away to be seen.
Stay safe, be informed and remember that there is nothing worse than a fun day ruined by a trip to the hospital!
Larry Buglino, DO, is a general surgeon and vein specialist in Lebanon. Learn more about Dr. Buglino and the services he offers. If you’re unsure about the severity of a burn or the care it needs, call your doctor or visit an urgent care clinic.