Care for Burn Wounds 101: From Minor to Major Burn Injuries

First Aid

A basic understanding of burn wound treatment can reduce pain and facilitate healing of all four types of burns. Burns are specifically damage caused to one or multiple layers of skin and flesh by external sources such as heat or chemicals, and range in severity from minor to major. The level of severity is denoted by the “degree,” with each degree noting a higher level of damage starting at first degree and moving as far as the fourth degree. Understanding and identifying burns properly will increase your chances of successful treatment and effective healing.

Types of Burns

  • First-Degree or superficial burns are identified by pain, redness, minor swelling and an absence of blistering.
  • Second-Degree burns produce a slight thickness of the skin and may include blistering, indicating damage has been done to the underlying layers of skin.
  • Third-Degree burns feature leathery, waxen skin and are commonly accompanied by numbness due to full damage to the dermis and surrounding nerves.
  • Fourth-degree burns have extended past the skin layers and into the flesh, causing charring and irreparable damage.

Burn Wound Treatment at Home

For the majority of burns, it is strongly advised to seek immediate medical assistance. However, for superficial burns that do not exceed three inches in diameter, the victim may be reasonably capable of treating the burn from home. When handling a minor burn, it is important you follow specific steps:

  • Thoroughly wash hands using antibacterial soap
  • Run cool, not cold, water over the wounded area to reduce pain and swelling
  • Use a mild soap and water to cleanse affected area
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment if there is no opening of the skin
  • Wrap the affected area loosely with sterile gauze to avoid agitation

When to Seek Medical Assistance for a Burn Wound

Regarding second degree burns or higher, it should be left to your medical care provider to administer appropriate treatment. When released from medical care, it is a good idea to ask what can be done to facilitate better wound healing in the recovery process. These steps may include the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and pain and regular cleaning and reapplication of the prescribed wound dressings.

Advanced Burn Wound Treatment

common dressing for mild to moderate burn wounds would be a hydrocolloid dressing, a simple patch-type dressing with gel forming agents inside of a flexible water-resistant outer layer. These are effective, simple to apply, and require minimal maintenance, only needing to be changed every three to five days.

Hydrogel dressings are more commonly used for blistering wounds and consist of a hydrating polymer layer that both soothes pain and provides adequate moisture to facilitate healing. Hydrogel dressings require a loosely wrapped gauze layer to hold it in place.

In the case of third-degree burns, advanced wound treatment will be handled by your medical care provider unless directed otherwise, as treatment will likely involve extensive debriding (the removal of necrotic tissue), the use of skin grafts, and potentially physical therapy.

For second degree burns and beyond, medical treatment should always be sought for the best chances of the wound healing properly. If you put off treatment, this can lead to further complications, or the worsening of symptoms.

It should be noted that the wound dressings used in treating higher degree burns will be prescribed by your clinician and should be covered by your insurance. Minor wound care products will most likely not covered by insurance and can be purchased over-the-counter