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Burns - Types, Treatment, Home Remedies, Complications, and Prevention

Written by
Dr. Sneha Kannan
and medically reviewed by Dr. Atishay Bukharia

Published on Nov 28, 2019   -  6 min read



Learn about the types, causes, symptoms, and ways to prevent burns. This article also includes home remedies and first aid care for burns and the available treatment options for burn scars.

Burns - Types, Treatment, Home Remedies, Complications, and Prevention

What Is a Burn?

Any tissue damage due to overexposure to heat, sun, and other radiation, or coming in contact with a chemical or an electrical source is called a burn. The damage caused can be minor or can be life-threatening and result in fatal complications

There are various treatment options for burns depending on its severity and location. Mild burns due to the sun’s rays usually only need home remedies. Deeper burns need immediate debridement and medical treatment. Such burns can cause severe tissue damage and disfigurement, which needs multiple corrective surgeries and months of hospital and follow-up care.

What Are the Common Types of Burns?

Depending on the cause, the types of burns are:

  • Sunburn - Burns that result from overexposure to the sun’s rays.

  • Thermal burns - Exposing your skin or touching a very hot substance like hot metals or liquid, hot vessels, stram, and fire, results in the death of the skin cells due to high temperatures.

  • Friction burns - The tissue damage caused due to the heat produced by an object rubbing the skin is called friction burns. Examples include bike accidents and carpet burns.

  • Cold burns - It is otherwise called frostbite. Extreme cold can damage your skin and cause cold burns. Your skin will turn bluish to purplish when exposed to freezing temperatures for a prolonged time.

  • Radiation burns - Burn that results from radiations such as X-rays or radiotherapy.

  • Chemical burns - Touching strong acids or solvents can burn your skin.

  • Electrical burns - The type of burn caused by a person coming in contact with electrical current, is called electrical burns.

What Are the Levels of Burns?

Based on how deep the skin damage is, the various levels of burn are:

1) First-degree burn - It is otherwise called superficial burns, and it is caused by minimal or mild damage to the outermost skin layer. The signs of a first-degree burn are redness, slight swelling or inflammation, and pain. The skin becomes dry and scaly as it heals.

As it is only superficial, the skin returns to its original texture and color ones the topmost layer is shed, which takes around 7 to 10 days. Consult a doctor if the burn has affected more than 3 inches of your skin or if it has affected your face or joints, as it will take time to heal.

2) Second-degree burn - These are more serious and damage layers below the topmost skin layer. The skin becomes very red and painful, and you might see blisters. These blisters burst open and make the burn area wet. Once it heals, thick scar tissue may develop over it, which is called fibrinous exudate.

Consult your doctor immediately, as the wound needs to be cleaned and bandaged to prevent infection. It can sometimes take longer than 2 to 3 weeks for a second-degree burn to heal, but the skin color mostly does not return to normal.

3) Third-degree burn - Here, the burn damages most layers of the skin including the fat layer. As it causes nerve damage and numbness, this type of burn is not that painful. The skin becomes white or waxy, charred, leathery, and dark brown in color. If left untreated, it can cause severe infection and severe scarring. It usually requires excision and skin grafting.

4) Fourth-degree burn - The burn extends to the underlying fat, muscles, and bones. The skin looks charred and dry. Like the third-degree burn, this is also painless, as the nerve endings are damaged. Amputation of the affected part might be needed, and it can also be fatal.


When to See a Doctor for a Burn?

Consult a doctor in the following cases:

  1. If the burn covers more than 3 inches of your hands or feet, face, or a major joint.

  2. If the skin becomes oozy, it causes severe pain, and swelling, as these are signs of an infection.

  3. If the burn appears to have damaged the deeper layers of the skin.

  4. If your skin looks leathery.

  5. If the burn was caused by an electric shock.

  6. If you find it difficult to breathe.

  7. If your skin is charred or has patches of black or brown.

  8. If the skin takes more than 2 weeks to heal.

  9. If healing resulted in a big scar.

Burn Rehabilitation:

First Aid:

Protect yourself and the victim from further harm by moving away from the source of burn. Make sure the victim is breathing, if not, perform CPR. Remove belts and jewelry from the burned area immediately, as the area might swell and restrict blood flow.

Always cover the burnt area with a cool and wet cloth, and do not use cotton as it will stick to the skin. Avoid immersing the areas that are severely burnt in water, as it can result in hypothermia. If you notice signs of infection or shock, take the victim to the emergency room immediately.

Home Remedies for Minor Burns

  • First of all, to reduce pain, apply a cold and wet cloth on the burn or hold it under running water.

  • Remove all jewelry from the area before it swells.

  • Avoid popping the blisters. In case a blister bursts open, apply antibiotic ointment.

  • Once you feel the area is cool, apply a moisturizer or lotion containing aloe vera.

  • If needed, cover the area with a gauze bandage loosely.

  • For pain, over-the-counter painkillers like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen can be used.

Minor burns commonly heal in a week or two with these home remedies. If it does not, then please consult a doctor.

Treatment for Severe Burns

The medicines and therapies used to help the skin heal are:

  • Ultrasound mist therapy - The wound tissue is cleaned and stimulated.

  • IV fluids - To prevent dehydration.

  • Pain medications - Morphine or other strong medicines are prescribed.

  • Ointments - Ointments containing Bacitracin and Silver sulfadiazine, prevent infection.

  • Wound dressing - The area is covered with dry gauze.

  • Tetanus injection.

  • Breathing assistance - In cases where the airway gets shut due to swelling, the doctor inserts a pipe through the windpipe to supply oxygen to the lungs. A ventilator machine will help the patient breath.

  • Feeding tube - In severe cases, where the patient has extreme burns and cannot eat and is undernourished, a feeding tube is inserted through the nose to the stomach.

  • Skin grafts - If the scar tissue covers a large area of a body part, then it is replaced with sections of healthy tissue taken from somewhere else on the patient’s body. Sometimes, skin from a cadaver or pigs are used temporarily.

  • Plastic surgery - To improve appearance of the scar and to make the joints more flexible, plastic reconstruction can be done.

What Are the Complications of a Burn?

Complications are commonly seen with third and fourth-degree burns. Some of the possible complications are:

  • Sepsis - The infection from the skin can result in bacteria moving to the bloodstream.

  • Hypothermia - The body’s temperature becomes dangerously low.

  • Breathing problems.

  • Contractures - The scar near a major joint can shorten and tighten the surrounding skin, muscles, and tendons.

  • Hypovolemia - Fluid and blood loss.

  • Keloids - The scar tissue can overgrow.

What Are the Ways to Prevent Burns?

Some of the preventive measures include:

  1. Keep lighters and matches away from kids.

  2. Do not let your kids enter the kitchen alone when the stove is on.

  3. Always keep the handles of the pot facing the back of the stove.

  4. Check if your smoke detectors are working periodically, and replace them every 10 years.

  5. Check the temperature of the water before you take a shower.

  6. Wear protective clothing while working with chemicals.

  7. Avoid going out during peak sunlight and always wear sunscreen.

  8. Clean the lint traps from the dryer often.

  9. Cover all exposed wires in the house.

  10. Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

  11. Practice escaping through the fire escape every month.

  12. Keep all electrical appliances far from a water source.

  13. Avoid cooking while wearing loose clothes.

For more information, consult a plastic surgeon now.

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Last reviewed at:
28 Nov 2019  -  6 min read




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