Treating Household Burns

Ever burn yourself on a hot iron or stove and rub butter on it? That’s what moms have done for years, and while it feels good, it can make things worse. According to the National Institutes of Health, rubbing butter on a burn can lead to infection. In fact, they even recommend against an ointment on a fresh burn for the same reason.

So what to do when you get that inevitable burn around the house? First, you need to know how bad the burn is. Burns are classified into three “degrees” of severity, determined by the size of the burn and how deep into the skin the damage goes.

A first-degree burn affects only the thin top layer of skin. A second-degree burn goes down into the thick lower layer of the skin. A third-degree burn is the most serious and goes through the entire thickness of the skin, destroying the skin and resulting in permanent damage to the tissue underneath.

Most household burns are first-degree. They turn the skin red, are painful, especially to the touch, and have mild swelling. Typically, there is little or no blistering. Usually, you can treat a first-degree burn yourself.

The NIH-suggested treatment is to immerse the burned area in fresh, cool water or apply cool compresses. After 10-15 minutes of this, dry the area and cover it with sterile gauze or a non-adhesive bandage. Don’t use butter or ointments, except as directed by your doctor, as these may cause infection. If there is a blister, don’t try to “drain” or otherwise break it. This can cause further damage and slow healing, and possibly lead to infection.

If the burn is dark red and appears glossy with a lot of blistering, you may have a second-degree burn and should see a doctor. A third-degree burn will turn the skin dry and leathery, possibly with white or dark patches. If you suspect a third-degree burn, get immediate medical attention.


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