December 2011

Preventing and Treating Minor Burns

A first-degree burn is the least serious type of burn, in which only the outer layer of skin is burned, and not all the way through. The skin is usually red, swollen and possibly painful. As long as it doesn’t involve a substantial portion of skin in places like the face or major joints, then a first-degree burn can be treated as a minor burn. Even these “minor” burns, however, should be treated correctly to prevent complications. Whether you live alone or with a large family, it’s important to know how to prevent common household burns, as well as how to treat minor burns.
The American College of Emergency Physicians notes that although more than two million Americans suffer burn injuries each year, many burns are preventable. Here are some tips for preventing common household burns:
  • When cooking, keep pot handles turned toward the rear of the stove, and never leave pans unattended.
  • Do not leave hot cups of coffee on tables or counter edges.
  • Do not carry hot liquids or food near your child or while holding your child.
  • Always test food temperatures before serving a child, especially foods or liquids heated in a microwave.
If a minor burn does occur, use these recommendations from the Mayo Clinic:
  • Cool the burn by holding the injury under cool – not cold – running water for 10 or 15 minutes or until the pain subsides. You can also immerse the burn in a bowl of cool water or use a cold compress.
  • Don't put ice on the burn.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Don't use fluffy cotton or other materials that easily stick to the wound. Wrap the gauze loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen. Use caution when giving aspirin to children and teenagers, and call your doctor with any questions or concerns.
  • Don't apply butter or ointments to the burn (unless a specific ointment or cream is advised by your healthcare provider).
  • Don't break blisters.
Most minor burns heal on their own. If your burn doesn’t heal within 10 days to two weeks, or if you experience a fever, excessive swelling or blisters filled with colored fluid, however, the American College of Emergency Physicians recommends immediate medical attention. For more information about burns and first aid, visit the Mayo Clinic at and the American College of Emergency Physicians at