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Thermal Burn


Seek emergency medical care if you have any partial or full thickness burn that involves the genitals, eyes, ears, hands, or feet, or burns over major joints regardless of size. Also seek immediate medical care for the following burns:

  • Any full thickness burn, for example, that looks dry, is painless, or looks charred
  • Any partial thickness burn that is more than twice the size of your palm
  • If pain is uncontrollable
  • Call 911 for emergency medical transport in these cases:
    • If there are extensive partial thickness or full thickness burns to the body
    • For any problems breathing with burns to the face
    • With a large amount of smoke exposure in a closed room
    • If a person is unconscious after he or she has sustained a burn

If you need to update your tetanus shot, your doctor can check your medical records or if you have any questions about burn care, call your doctor.

Self-Care at Home

The most important first step is to stop the burning process.

  • Put out any fire or flames (the common advice is to 'stop, drop, and roll' to put out flames on your clothing). Remove hot or burned clothing, if possible, or stop contact with the hot steam, liquid, or a hot object.
  • Cool the injured area with water (not ice) within 30 seconds. This may limit the extent and severity of the burn. Run your burned hand or finger, for example, immediately under cool tap water for several minutes.
  • Control the pain.
    • Apply a cool wet compress for pain relief. Do not use ice. This may worsen the injury to the skin.
    • Other common remedies, such as butter or mayonnaise have not been proven to work; and may increase the chance of infection.
    • You may also use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for pain as directed on the bottle.
  • Begin the healing process.
    • For small burns and burns that are superficial in nature, you may use a triple antibiotic ointment. This will aid in healing and limit the chance of infection.
    • Do not remove blisters at home, especially those on the palms of the hands or on the soles of the feet.



After receiving care in a hospital's emergency department for a burn, it is always wise to follow up with your doctor to have the burn reexamined.


Burns are easy injuries to prevent, use common sense.

  • Do not allow young children to play with matches or materials that can cause a fire.
  • Do not smoke cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in bed.
  • Set the water temperature in your home's hot water heater to 120-125°F. Also, turn the hot water off before the cold water when taking a bath or shower. This will prevent scald-type burns.
  • Turn pot-handles to the inside on the stove so that toddlers and young children cannot reach up and pull them down. If stove controls are on the front of the stove or if the stove top is accessible to a toddler or young child, erect a barrier to prevent touching of hot surfaces.
  • Do not carry a child and hot liquids at the same time. Also, do not leave cups, mugs, or bowls containing hot liquids at the edge of a table where a toddler or young child can reach up and pull them down onto themselves.
  • Teach children to respect fire and not to play with fire or burning objects. Instruct them in the techniques of 'stop, drop, and roll' to put out flames on their clothing.
  • As a family, put together a fire escape plan and practice it.
  • Install smoke detectors in the house and check them regularly.

Most minor burns can be treated at home and will heal fine without scarring. Extensive burns, severe burns in critical areas, such as the face, genitals, hands, or feet, and burns in infants or the elderly may require hospitalization and care by a specialist in burns.

Besides scarring, another complication of burns is infection. This is uncommon with good wound care as directed by the doctor and use of a topical antibiotic ointment. Nevertheless, if infection does occur, a doctor should be consulted so that he or she may start an oral antibiotic and follow the burn closely with frequent follow-ups.

Signs of infection include redness, increased pain in the area, drainage of pus, swelling, and fever  .


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