HealthONE - November 24, 2020

Help from burn experts in Denver

From the sun and hot cement in warm seasons to the kitchen and fireplaces in the cooler months – burns happen anywhere, anytime. Often, burns are minor and can be treated at home without the need for a visit to the doctor or emergency room (ER). But it is important to know how to successfully treat burns at home and how to decide if you need help from a burn expert.

Types of burns

Burns are categorized into levels of degree, which is determined by how far it reaches into the skin.

  • A first-degree burn is superficial—it affects only the outer layer of skin and causes pain, redness and swelling. A mild sunburn is a first-degree burn.
  • A second-degree burn is sometimes called a partial-thickness burn. These burns are painful and lead to swelling, blistering, and peeling skin. A serious sunburn, hot oil burn, candle wax burn or boiling water burn often are second-degree burns.
  • A third-degree burn is called an all-thickness burn. These burns affect all layers of skin and often damage nerve receptors, so the burned person does not feel pain. A third-degree burn may be caused by scalding liquid, fire, or a chemical source.
  • Fourth, fifth- and sixth-degree burns are those that extend into the underlying fat, muscle, and bone. These may be caused by open flames, stoves, ovens, or chemicals.

When to treat a burn at home

A first-degree burn does not require a visit to the doctor or emergency room. If you or a loved one has been burned and the area is red, slightly swollen, and painful, follow these steps:

  1. Removing anything that may have caused the burn.
  2. Wash the area with soap and water.
  3. Cool the burn by running it under cool water or placing a cool compress on it for five to ten minutes.
  4. Apply antibiotic ointment once the area is cooled and wrap in loose gauze, if desired
  5. You may take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, if needed.

If your skin has blistered, you likely have a second-degree burn, which often can be treated at home as well. For these burns, we recommend removing anything that is tight in the area, such as rings, as the area may continue to swell. Take care not to break any blisters as they protect against infection. If a blister does break, wash the area with mild soap and water and cover with a dry, sterile dressing until healed. Watch the area for signs of infection and keep it clean, dry, and protected. Most first and second-degree burns heal on their own within a few weeks. However, if your second-degree burn is on the face, hands, buttocks, groin, or feet, seek medical help.

When to go to the ER for a burn

If the burn is more than three inches, is covering the hands, joints or face and there is little to no pain, seek emergency care. Burns that require care from specialists may appear dry, leathery and be white, black, brown, or yellow in color. For these more significant burns, do not remove any clothing that may be stuck to the burn and do not put ice, lotions, ointments, or sprays on the burn. If possible, raise the burned area higher than the heart and seek emergency care. For burns that are third-degree and higher, it is important to find care from an experienced team of burn specialists to properly prevent infection, reduce scarring and keep function.

The importance of a burn center

Burn centers are designed to meet the specific needs of patients with serious burns. The physicians and staff have undergone specialized training in burn treatment and have access to technology and treatments that are not available at all care facilities. Swedish Medical Center is proud to be one of the only Level 1 Trauma Centers with a dedicated burn unit in south metro Denver. With two dedicated operating rooms, a burn intensive care unit, specialty pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), and dedicated staff trained in the care and management of burn injuries, we provide high quality, advanced burn and reconstructive care. In addition to our specialized inpatient burn unit, Swedish also provides burn care through our outpatient burn clinic. This outpatient center offers a variety of advanced treatments and therapy options for patients of any age with any type of burn injury and is open five days a week for both scheduled and walk-in appointments. Learn more about the Burn and Reconstructive Center at Swedish Medical Center.