According to the American Burn Association more than 450,000 people visit the emergency room and receive treatment for burns annually. More than 66 percent of burns occur in the home.
There are three types of burns. The mildest type of burn is known as the first-degree burn. With a first-degree burn, only the top layer of the skin is burned.
Symptoms of first-degree burns include:
• Skin is painful to touch
• Minor swelling
• Pain usually lasts 48 to 72 hours
• Possible skin peel
The first-degree burn generally heals on its own and takes three to six days to completely heal. Also, the burned skin may peel away in 24 to 48 hours after the initial burn. This will leave a very thin layer of skin which will be red and very sensitive to touch.
First-degree burns need to be treated quickly. Quick treatment reduces the temperature of the skin and damage to the burn area.
Do not apply ice to a first-degree burn. Ice can cause additional damage to the skin. Also, never apply powder, butter, grease, or any other ʺurban legendʺ remedies to a first-degree burn. These old wives' tale remedies can further irritate your skin and cause a skin infection.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the following steps need to be taken to treat first-degree burns. First-degree burn treatment includes:
• Removing the skin from the heat and burn source.
• Immediately removing clothing from the burn area.
• Soaking the burn in cool water for at least five minutes. The cool water helps reduce swelling by pulling heat away from the burned skin.
• Treating the burn with a skin care product like aloe vera cream or an antibiotic ointment three times a day.
• Wrapping a dry gauze bandage loosely around the burn for 24 hours. This will protect the area and keep the air off of it.
• Taking acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to reduce the pain and swelling.
In an emergency, if cool water is not available, any cool drinkable liquid that is available can be applied, or you can apply a clean, cold compress to the burn for approximately three to five minutes.
Finally, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends seeing a doctor for a first-degree burn if:
• The burn is on your face, over a major joint (such as the knee or shoulder), on the hands, feet or genitals.
• A first-degree burn covers an area larger than 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
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First Aid: Burns -- familydoctor.org. Health information for the whole family -- familydoctor.org. Retrieved September 18, 2011, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/firstaid/after-injury/638.html
Treating first-, second-, and third-degree burns - FamilyEducation.com. Family Life, Child Development, Nutrition, Teen Health & School Safety - FamilyEducation.com. Retrieved September 18, 2011, from
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Reviewed September 19, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Malu Banuelos