The skin is the largest organ of your body. Your skin protects you from microbes (germs like viruses and bacteria), helps regulate your body temperature, and permits the sensations of touch, heat, and cold. The most common type of damage to your skin can be a result of a burn. 

Burns are damage to your skin usually caused by heat. A burn is caused by dry heat – by an iron or fire, for example. A burn is also a break in your skin, and the risk of infection exists, both at the site of the injury and potentially throughout your body.

Burn injury is common in every household. While most often seen in women and children, it can occur in men as well. It can happen while cooking in the kitchen, while ironing clothes, from electric currents, from exposure to chemicals such as strong acids, paint thinners, or gasoline; and sometimes from hot metal, glass, or other objects.

Burns can be very painful and may cause redness or peeling skin, blisters (an area of skin covered by a raised, fluid-filled bubble), and swelling. The amount of pain you feel can be a direct result of the degree or the kind of burn. Burns are classified based upon their depth as:

  • A first-degree burn causes local inflammation (swelling) of your skin. Sunburns often are categorized as first-degree burns. Your skin may be very tender to touch.

  • Second-degree burns are deeper and, in addition to redness and inflammation, it can cause blistering of your skin.

  • Third-degree burns are deepest, involving all layers of your skin. Third-degree burns appear white and are usually less painful than first and second-degree burns.

Treating Burns at Home

It is imperative to understand that only first-degree burns can be treated at home. For second and third-degree burns, it is advised to rush to the burn unit of the hospital or the emergency.

Before we look at the steps to follow to treat a first-degree burn injury at home, remember that a first-aid box comes in handy in case of burn accidents. A first-aid box is an essential medical kit in every home, car, office, or while you are traveling. A first-aid kit or box is a collection of medical supplies and equipment used to give immediate treatment and relief.

A burn injury causes tingling pain and seems to be unmanageable at the time of the burn. The discomfort depends on the severity of the burn but you need to know about the first steps after a burn injury, before medical help arrives or the patient is taken to the hospital.

1. Move away from the source of heat. The first thing to do in case of a burn is to move away from the source of the burn. For example, if a burn was caused by hot oil in the kitchen, make sure to turn off the gas and move away from the vessel of the hot oil. If the burn was caused while ironing clothes, switch off the iron and move away from the iron stand or board.

2. Cool the burn immediately. It is generally believed that ice cold water is good for burns. But in reality, it forms blisters at the site of the burn. So, rather than ice or cold water, keep your burn site under running tap water for over 5-10 minutes. Do not use ice, iced water, creams, or greasy substances like butter and toothpaste.

3. Remove tight clothing or jewellery. If you are wearing any jewellery at the site of the burn, remove it carefully. It should be done before a blister forms or your skin swells. Any tight clothing should also be removed. In the case of babies, it is advisable to remove their nappies or diapers as well.

4. Cover or protect the burnt area. Do not let any insects or dust come in contact with the wound. Clean around the area and cover with a soft and loose cotton cloth, if required. You can cover the burn by placing a layer of cling film over it. Using a clean plastic bag to cover a burn on the hands will also work.

5. Treat pain with a painkiller. If the pain is unbearable, a pain-killer can be given to the patient. If possible, consult your physician over the phone before self-medicating.

6. Do not use random ointments on a burn. If you don’t have a burn ointment, do not experiment. Strictly do not use butter, ointments, toothpaste, or other home remedies - they can trap heat in the tissue and make your burn worse. Get a specific ointment if possible, or just wait till you get to the hospital.

7. Sit up in case of a burn on the face or eyes. If your face or eyes are burnt, sit up as much as possible, rather than lying down – this helps to reduce swelling.

Depending on how serious the burn is, it is advisable to seek immediate medical help from your doctor. For minor burns (first degree), keep the burn clean and do not burst any blisters that form. 

You are advised to be careful while carrying out various household chores. Keep your child away from open fires, cookers, irons, hair straighteners, matches, and hot water, as these can cause burns.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.