When to Go to the Emergency Department for a Burn - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on July 15, 2015

When to Go to the Emergency Department for a Burn

The Crozer Burn Center provides comprehensive
burn treatment, from emergency care to rehab.

Summer time is all about having fun outdoors and taking advantage of the warm weather. But, amidst the long beach and pool days, picnics and barbecues, there’s a heightened risk of burns.

During the summer, most burns are caused by grills, fireworks, campfires and sun exposure. Unfortunately, everyone gets burned at some point. By and large, most burns don’t require treatment at a burn center or need skin grafts, but severe burns require immediate medical attention.

How Severe Is Your Burn?

The severity of a burn is based on how much skin is damaged, measuring the surface area and depth of the burn. However, it can be complicated to assess whether a burn is critical and needs professional treatment.

First-Degree Burns

Small first-degree burns and sometimes second-degree burns don’t need to be treated by a healthcare provider. A first-degree burn is characterized as the least serious type of burn, involving only the outer layer of skin. This type of burn may cause pain, swelling and redness.

In the event that you suffer a first-degree burn, soak the burn in cool water for about 5 minutes – this helps reduce swelling by pulling the heat away from burned skin. Then, treat the skin with aloe vera or antibiotic ointment and wrap it loosely in a dry gauze bandage. An over-the-counter pain relieve can also help with the pain and swelling.

Second-Degree Burns

A second-degree burn is more serious, causing red, white or splotchy skin, swelling, pain and blisters. If you suffer a small second-degree burn that is no larger than 3 inches, you can follow the same course of self-treatment, but just holding the burn in cool water for about 15 minutes. However, if the burned area is larger or covers the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint, treat it as a major burn and seek immediate medical treatment.

Third-Degree Burns

A third-degree burn is most serious type of burn and requires a call to 911 and immediate medical treatment. This type of burn involves all layers of skin and underlying fat, sometimes even affecting muscle and bone. Someone suffering a third-degree burn needs to go to the hospital right away. Don’t take off any clothing stuck to the burn and don’t soak the burn in water or apply ointment.

The skin affected by a third-degree burn may appear dry and leathery or look black, white, brown or yellow. This skin will also swell. In some cases of third-degree burns, the victim may not feel pain because the nerve endings have been destroyed.

A third-degree burn victim may also experience difficulty breathing, carbon monoxide poisoning or other toxic effects if smoke inhalation occurred in addition to the burn. These complicating factors make it even more crucial to get to the hospital right away.

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