Treat it Yourself or Call for Help, Depending on Severity
Depending on the severity of a burn, which is based on depth and size, you might need to see a doctor or call 911. Regardless of the severity of the injury, follow these steps to immediately treat a burn:
- Flush the burned area with cool running water for several minutes
- Call 911 for a severe burn (see below to learn if your burn is severe)
- Apply a burn ointment or spray for pain
- Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief if necessary
Cool the Burn With Cool Running Water
Cool the burned area with cool running water for several minutes. Don’t spray burns with high pressure, just let the water run over the burned area for as long as you can. Minor burns can be cooled with tap water over the sink. Don’t be afraid to rinse bigger burns with a hose outside.
Do not use ice to cool a burn. Ice can cause frostbite very quickly when used on a burn because the skin is already damaged.
If an ambulance is coming, don’t stop cooling the burn with running water until the ambulance arrives.
When to Call 911
Call 911 if there is charring (blackened skin) or blistering (bubbles on the skin) in the following areas:
- the face
- the genitals
- all the way around a wrist, arm, leg or ankle
- covering most of a foot or hand
- anywhere on the body covering an area bigger than the size of the chest
Don’t be afraid to call 911 if you believe this is an emergency regardless of whether the injury matches this list or not. You are always the best judge of whether or not you need help.
Using Burn Ointment
Minor burns can be treated with a topical burn ointment or spray to reduce pain. Ointments should be water soluble. Do not pop blisters.
Continue cooling with running water to help with the pain.
Do not apply butter or oil to any burn. Butter or lard may feel cool because it comes out of the refrigerator, but the oils will trap heat and make the burn deeper over time.
- Burns destroy skin and the loss of skin can lead to infection, dehydration, and hypothermia (loss of body heat). Make sure that burn patients get emergency medical help if experiencing any of the following:
- dizziness or confusion
- fever or chills
- cold sweats
- While the burn is healing, wear loose natural clothing like silks or light cotton. Harsher fabrics will irritate the skin even more.
Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used for the pain of a mild burn (typically redness only). If stronger pain relief is needed, call a doctor or go to the emergency department.