You reach into the oven to remove a baking sheet, and — OUCH! — your arm accidentally grazes the cooking rack. Should you rush to the sink to run it under cold water? Add a bandage? Call your doctor?
“The most important thing everyone needs to know is that burns can be very serious and caution needs to be taken,” says Nichole Flint, R.N., a certified wound ostomy nurse and manager of Advanced Wound Care at Renown Health. “Burns can affect every system in the body — including organs — and can require painful treatment and recovery.”
Four Types of Burns
First, it’s important to understand that burns are classified from first to fourth degree, with fourth being the most severe.
First degree burns are very superficial, like a mild sunburn. Second degree burns are also superficial but penetrate the epidermis — the outer layer of skin — causing blistering, pain and resulting in scarring. Third degree burns penetrate the epidermis and can run through to the dermis, the inner layer of skin. These can have ivory colored tissue at the deepest points and will cause scarring. Fourth degree burns result in the destruction of all the skin layers, and normally present with black, brown or white tissue and will often require grafting.
Determining the severity of a burn includes — but is not limited to — the location and size of the burn, which parts of the body were burned, if smoke inhalation also occurred, as well as the patient’s age and overall health, Flint says.
For healthy people, anything greater than a first degree burn should be seen by a healthcare provider, Flint says. If you suffer a second degree burn, your primary care provider is a good resource. They can offer ointments to help with pain, offer tips to limit scarring and keep an eye out for infection.
How to Treat Burns
If you experience a mild burn, monitor it closely to see how it develops. Burns are easily infected and can also increase your risk of dehydration as fluids are lost through burns.
Immediately after experiencing a mild or first-degree burn, you can hold the skin under room temperature water. Do not use cold water, contrary to common belief. After running the wound under water, cover it with a non-adhesive bandage. Look specifically for bandages labeled as non-adhesive, as they have a special layer to protect your skin. Don’t use gauze or paper towels, as these can dry and stick to the burn area. And if your pain can’t be relieved with over-the-counter pain medications after 12 hours or if your symptoms worsen anywhere from six hours to a week after the burn, you need to see your doctor.
It’s also important to be aware of any fumes you may inhale. If there was any risk of smoke inhalation, or if plastics, chemicals or chemically treated woods were involved, you should get checked out, Flint says.
And someone with a weakened immune system or who has two or more chronic diseases may be at higher risk of infection, so it is especially important to see a healthcare provider quickly for any burn — regardless of its severity.
Learn more health and safety tips by visiting BestMEDICINE online.