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Treatment for a burn depends on the cause. Quick treatment is important and can lessen the damage to the tissues. First aid for minor burns may involve:
  • Cooling the burn with running water or a cold damp cloth. Do not use ice—this may result in more damage to the skin.
  • Do not use butter, grease, oils, or ointments on the burn.
  • Cover the burn with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
  • Do not use a fluffy cloth such as a towel or blanket.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Do not break or pop any blisters. This may result in an infection.
  • If you see signs of an infection, get medical attention. Signs of infection include:
    • Increased pain
    • Redness
    • Fever
    • Swelling
    • Oozing of pus
Once a minor burn is completely cooled, you can consider using a fragrance-free lotion or moisturizer to prevent drying and make the area more comfortable.
For more serious burns, like deep partial-thickness or full-thickness burns, seek medical attention or call 911. Until an emergency unit arrives:
If you are diagnosed with more than a minor burn, follow your doctor's instructions .


A doctor will decide if hospitalization is necessary based on many factors. These include age, the cause of the burn, and the extent and depth of the burn. Reasons to hospitalize a person who has more than a minor burn may include:
  • Age: younger than five years or older than 55 years
  • Suspected child abuse
  • Very small, deep burns on the hands, face, eyes, feet, or perineum (groin/genital area)
  • Extensive burn: using TBSA and age charts
  • Burns that may require complicated dressing changes, elevation, or continued physician observation
  • High-voltage injury or burn
  • Suspected or known inhalation injury
  • Circumferential burn
  • Other medical problems that predispose a person to infection, such as:

Medical Treatment for Major Burns

If the burn is serious, the following treatments may be administered in a hospital:
  • Oxygen to help with breathing
  • Intubation
  • IV fluids to replace those lost from the burn
  • Skin graft
  • Splints—placed on joints to help maintain mobility
  • Physical therapy, in the case of large burns


Most burns are the result of accidents. To prevent burns:
  • Teach children about fire prevention and keep dangerous materials out of reach.
  • Make sure smoke detectors are installed and in working order. Replace batteries twice a year (one way to remember to do this is to change the batteries the same days you change the clocks for daylight savings time).
  • When cooking, keep pot handles turned toward the back of the stove.
  • Supervise young children in the kitchen and around fireworks.
  • Set the temperature on the water heater to less than 120° F and test the bath water before your child gets in.
  • Make sure children’s sleepwear is flame-resistant.
  • Don’t hold children in your arms or lap while cooking, serving, or eating hot foods or liquids.
  • Do not leave matches, lighters, candles, or burning cigarettes unattended.
  • Wear protective gloves and clothing when handling caustic chemicals.
  • Put protective covers on electrical outlets.
  • Do not wear loose-fitting sleeves while cooking.
  • Keep children and pets away from the stove while cooking.
  • Make sure electrical cords are not hanging over the edge of countertops.
  • Store chemicals and cleaners in a locked cabinet.
  • Children younger than one year can sustain partial-thickness burns from hot seat belt straps or buckles in car seats. Make sure car seats are not hot before putting a child in the seat. If you park in the sun, cover the seat with a towel.


American Burn Association

National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health



Canadian Burn Foundation

Health Canada



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Child safety: how to prevent burns. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research website. Available at: . Updated February 2009. Accessed July 22, 2009.

Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008.

Marx J, Hockberger R, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2009.

Parenting corner Q&A: burns. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: . Updated September 2007. Accessed July 22, 2009.

Protect the ones you love: burns. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Accessed July 22, 2009.

Shriners Hospital for Children website. Available at: . Accessed July 22, 2009.

Taking care of burns. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: . Updated November 2000. Accessed July 22, 2009.


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