Burns can be minor medical problems or life-threatening emergencies. Many people die each year from fire-related burn injuries. Electricity and chemicals also cause severe burns. Scalding liquids are the most common cause of burns in children
Treatment of burns depends on the location and severity of the injury. Sunburns and small scalds can usually be treated at home. Deep or widespread burns need immediate medical attention.
Many things can cause burns, including:
- Hot liquid or steam
- Hot metal, glass or other objects
- Electrical currents
- Radiation from X-rays or radiation therapy to treat cancer
- Sunlight or ultraviolet light from a sunlamp or tanning bed
- Chemicals such as strong acids, lye, paint thinner or gasoline
Deep or widespread burns can lead to many complications, including:
Low blood volume.
Dangerously low body temperature.
Bone and joint problems.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of burns depends on the type and extent of the injuries. Most minor burns can be treated at home using over-the-counter products or aloe. They usually heal within a few weeks.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To treat minor burns, follow these steps:
- Cool the burn. Run cool (not cold) tap water over the burn for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pain eases. Or apply a clean towel dampened with cool tap water. Don’t use ice. Putting ice directly on a burn can cause further damage to the tissue.
- Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area. Try to do this quickly and gently, before the area swells.
- Don’t break small blisters (no bigger than your little fingernail). If blisters break, gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a nonstick gauze bandage.
- Apply moisturizer or aloe vera lotion or gel. This may soothe the area and prevent dryness as the wound heals.
- If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Nonprescription products include ibuprofen (, naproxen and acetaminophen
- Consider a tetanus shot. Make sure that your tetanus booster is up to date. Doctors recommend people get a tetanus shot at least every 10 years.
Whether your burn was minor or serious, use sunscreen and moisturizer regularly once the wound is healed.
Medications and wound healing products
For major burns, various medications and products are used to encourage healing.
- Water-based treatments. Your care team may use techniques such as ultrasound mist therapy to clean and stimulate the wound tissue.
- Fluids to prevent dehydration. You may need intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration and organ failure.
- Pain and anxiety medications. Healing burns can be incredibly painful. You may need morphine and anti-anxiety medications — particularly for dressing changes.
- Burn creams and ointments. Your care team can select from a variety of topical products for wound healing. These help keep the wound moist, reduce pain, prevent infection and speed healing.
- Your care team may also use various specialty wound dressings. These create a moist environment that fights infection and helps the burn heal.
- Drugs that fight infection. If you develop an infection, you may need IV antibiotics.
- Tetanus shot. Your doctor might recommend a tetanus shot after a burn injury.
Physical and occupational therapy
If the burned area is large, especially if it covers any joints, you may need physical therapy exercises. These can help stretch the skin so the joints can remain flexible. Other types of exercises can improve muscle strength and coordination. And occupational therapy may help if you have difficulty doing your normal daily activities.
Surgical and other procedures
You may need one or more of the following procedures:
- Breathing assistance..
- Tube feeding..
- Easing blood flow around the wound.
- Skin grafts.
- Plastic surgery.
Be alert to burn risks outside the home, especially if you work in places with open flames, chemicals or superheated materials.
To reduce the risk of common household burns:
- Never leave items cooking on the stove unattended.
- Turn pot handles toward the rear of the stove.
- Keep hot liquids out of the reach of children and pets.
- Keep electrical appliances away from water.
- Test food temperatures before serving a child. Don’t heat a baby’s bottle in the microwave.
- Never cook while wearing loosefitting clothes that could catch fire over the stove.
- If a small child is present, block his or her access to heat sources such as a stove, outdoor grill, fireplace and space heater.
- Before placing a child in a car seat, check for hot straps or buckles.
- Unplug irons and similar devices when not in use. Store them out of reach of small children.
- Cover unused electrical outlets with safety caps. Keep electrical cords and wires out of the way so that children don’t chew on them.
- If you must smoke, avoid smoking in the house and especially never smoke in bed.
- Check your smoke detectors and change their batteries regularly.
- Keep a fire extinguisher on every floor of your house.
- Keep chemicals, lighters and matches out of the reach of children.
- Set your water heater’s thermostat below 120 F (48.9 C) to prevent scalding. Test bath water before placing a child in it.