How to Handle a Burn on Your Way to Urgent Care

Burns are common household injuries that most people experience at least once in their lifetime. Even though they’re commonplace, however, there’s a lot of confusion about what you should do when a burn spoils your day.

Do you break a burn blister? Should you apply ice to the burn? Do you cover the burn with a bandage or leave it open?

The healthcare professionals at DOCCS have the answers to those questions. They can help clear the confusion over burn care and provide tips on providing comfort on the way to their urgent care clinic.

1. Evaluate the burn.

Understanding the characteristics of a burn can help determine the type of temporary aid you can offer.

Burns are identified by depth, which is measured by the level at which the layers of tissue structures underlying the burn site are affected.

First-degree burns affect the top layer of skin (epidermis) and cause pain, swelling, and redness.

Second-degree burns affect the epidermis as well as the deeper layer of skin (dermis). Along with the redness, pain, and swelling noted in first-degree burns, second-degree burns also produce blisters.

Third-degree burns are often referred to as full-thickness burns because they affect the dermis as well as underlying tissue, causing white or charred skin and possibly numbness in the injured area due to nerve destruction

Fourth-degree burns include all the characteristics of a third-degree burn, but also involve tendons and bones.

Significant sunburns also require medical care. They typically cover large areas, often blistering in places, and may be accompanied by dehydration and other serious conditions related to sun exposure and heat exhaustion.

Always call 911 if the burn victim is having difficulty breathing or develops other concerning symptoms, such as confusion or loss of consciousness.

2. Remove clothing and accessories that may be irritating or restricting the burn.

Change into loose, comfortable clothing. In the case of a chemical burn, quickly remove any clothing that came in contact with the substance as it will continue to burn until removed.

Never try to forcibly remove material that appears stuck to the burn. Doing so can cause further damage to the wound and greatly increase pain.

If possible, take off any rings, watches, belts and other potentially restrictive accessories since burns cause swelling, which may make it more difficult and painful to remove the items later.  

3. Drain the heat.

Hold the burned area under cool, but not cold, running water for 10 minutes. Use moist, cool compresses if that isn’t possible because of the location of the burn.

Do not apply ice to a burn, and avoid immersing anyone with a large burn into a cold bath or shower as this can lead to hypothermia.

Do not smear butter or other greasy substances on a burn. These old-time remedies have been passed down for generations. Though well-intentioned, doing so can worsen the pain, increase the risk of infection, and make it more difficult for your doctor to treat the burn once you’ve arrived at DOCCS.

4. Do not pop a burn blister.

Fluid-filled blisters help protect against infection. Burns are particularly susceptible to infection because of the damage done to the protective skin layer surrounding and overlying the wound. If blisters break on their own, clean the area gently with cool water

5. If possible, wrap the burn loosely with gauze or other sterile, non-shedding material.

The goal is to protect the burn from dirt, dust, and other debris without applying pressure to the site. Do not use cotton balls or other similar material to clean, dry, or cover the burn. Cotton can stick to the wound and leave behind fibers.

6. Elevate the burned area on the way to urgent care.

Whenever possible, elevate the wounded region above the heart. This helps reduce pain and slows swelling.

Once you’ve arrived at DOCCS, we’ll see you quickly, examine the burn, and proceed with the best available care. We also provide aftercare instructions that help speed recovery and limit scarring. If necessary, we may refer you for further treatment, such as skin grafting to help third-degree burns heal.

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