If you burn the top layer of your skin, it is considered a first-degree burn and your skin will often:
- turn red
If the burn goes one layer deeper than a first-degree burn, it is considered a second-degree, or partial thickness, burn. And, along with the first-degree burn symptoms, your skin will often blister.
There are also third-degree, or full thickness, burns that affect the deep layers of the skin and fourth-degree burns that go deeper than the skin, burning bones and tendons.
If your skin has blistered after a burn, you should not pop it. Popping the blister could lead to infection. Along with not popping any blisters, there are other steps you can take both in administering first aid and burn blister care.
If you need to perform first aid for minor burns, remember the “three C’s”: calm, clothing, and cooling.
Step 1: Calm
- Stay calm.
- Help the person with the burn stay calm.
Step 2: Clothing
- If it is a chemical burn, remove all clothes that have touched the chemical.
- If clothing is not stuck to the burn, remove it from the burned area.
Step 3: Cooling
- Run cool — not cold — water gently over the burned area for 10 to 15 minutes.
- If running water is not available, soak the burned area in a cool water bath or cover the burned area with a clean cloth that has been soaked in cool water.
Call your doctor or seek other qualified medical help if your burn:
- is dark red, glossy and has many blisters
- is larger than two inches
- was caused by chemicals, an open flame, or electricity (wire or socket)
- is located on the face, groin, hand, foot, buttocks, or a joint, including the ankle, knee, hip, wrist, elbow, shoulder
- appears to be a third- or fourth-degree burn
Once you have been treated, your doctor will most likely give you instructions on how to care for your burn. If all goes well, minor burns should be healed in less than three weeks.
You should return to your doctor’s office if your burn starts to show signs of infection such as:
- red streak extending from the burned area
- increasing pain
- swollen lymph nodes
If the burn did not meet the criteria for medical help, there are steps you can take to treat it:
- Gently clean the burn with non-perfumed soap and water.
- Refrain from breaking any blisters to avoid potential infection.
- Gently put a thin layer simple ointment on the burn. The ointment does not need to have antibiotics. Petroleum jelly and aloe vera work well.
- Protect the burned area by wrapping it lightly with a sterile nonstick gauze bandage. Steer clear of bandages that can shed fibers that can get stuck in burn.
- Address pain with an over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve).
If a burn blister breaks, carefully clean the broken blister area and apply an antibiotic ointment. Finally, cover the area with a sterile non-stick gauze bandage.
If you have a minor burn that blisters, you can probably treat it yourself. Part of proper treatment includes not popping the blisters as this could increase the risk of infection.
If you have a more severe burn, you should see your doctor or, based on the level of severity, seek immediate professional medical care. If, when caring for your burn, you notice any signs of infection, get to your doctor right away.