Burns are an extremely common injury, especially for children. And it’s critical to know when a burn requires medical care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that each day more than 300 children are taken to emergency rooms around the country for burn injuries — and two children die every day from severe burns.
What can you do to lower these numbers? Take steps to prevent burns in your household, and recognize the signs of a serious burn so you can get the care that you or a loved one need.
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When Does a Burn Require Medical Care?
First, consider how deep the burn is.
The depth of the burn is classified into a burn degree.
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Burn Degrees: What Are First, Second, and Third-Degree Burns?
- A first-degree burn only affects the most superficial layer of skin, called the epidermis. The skin may be pink in color, warm to the touch, and slightly swollen. The burn site will be tender and sensitive to the touch.
- A second-degree burn penetrates into the dermis, a thick layer of living tissue just beneath the surface of your skin. Severe second-degree burns may extend deeper into the tissue below the dermis. With a second-degree burn, you may see blistering, deep-hued red skin, or even yellow and white patches. Pain from a second-degree burn is moderate to severe.
- Third-degree burns sear the epidermis, the dermis, and below. These severe burns do not produce blistering because the tissue that blisters will be destroyed. Contrary to popular belief, third-degree burns produce minimal pain because the nerves will be too damaged to transmit feeling. The burn may be white, yellowed, or visibly charred.
- A fourth-degree burn refers to an extremely severe burn that extends into the muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. These tissues may be visible, and the surrounding will likely be blackened.
Next, think about these burn factors.
- How large is the burn?
- Where is the burn located?
- How old is victim? Small children may be more affected by burn injuries.
- Have any additional injuries been sustained as the result of the burn?
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These types of burns should be treated by a doctor.
- Any second-degree burn larger than two inches in diameter should be checked out by a doctor. In addition, burns on the face, genitals, or joints should be treated by a doctor, as they may require additional treatment to heal without scarring.
- Burns caused by chemicals or electricity should be evaluated by a doctor, while only first- and second-degree sunburns or burns caused by high temperatures should be treated at home.
For more information about burn treatment, visit the UPMC Mercy Burn Center website. To find immediate care near you, visit UPMC CareFinder.
First Aid for Burns
For minor burns, the first step is to cool the burn by rinsing or soaking the burn in cool water for several minutes until the pain starts to decrease. Cool compresses can be used on the face or other areas that can’t be rinsed or submerged in cool water. This reduces pain and can lessen the severity of the burn. Ice and ice water are not to be used to cool the burn.
If there is blistering, do not pop the blisters. Wash the burn with water to remove any debris and reduce the chance of infection. Do not apply butter or sprays as this can trap heat inside the skin.
If there is open skin or broken blisters, or if the burn may become irritated by clothing, a bandage may be necessary. If the area needs to be bandaged, use a non-stick bandage to avoid tearing skin when the bandage is removed.
Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye or the beat of the heart. And when they do, seconds matter. UPMC’s emergency and trauma care services are ready to provide world-class care, no matter how serious your emergency. All our emergency departments have a full-time staff of emergency specialists at the ready 24 hours a day. We use advanced technology to diagnose and treat your condition and coordinate with your doctor to provide the best care possible. We also have specialized trauma care, including Level 1 trauma centers at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Mercy, a Level 1 pediatric trauma center at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, a Level 2 trauma center at UPMC Hamot, and a Level 2 trauma center at UPMC Altoona.