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Burns - Home Treatment

Most minor burns will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your symptoms and promote healing. But if you suspect you may have a more severe injury, use first-aid measures while you arrange for an evaluation by your doctor.

Immediate first aid for burns

  • First, stop the burning to prevent a more severe burn.
    • Heat burns (thermal burns): Smother any flames by covering them with a blanket or water. If your clothing catches fire, do not run: stop, drop, and roll on the ground to smother the flames.
    • Cold temperature burns: Try first aid measures to warm the areas. Small areas of your body (ears, face, nose, fingers, toes) that are really cold or frozen can be warmed by blowing warm air on them, tucking them inside your clothing or putting them in warm water.
    • Liquid scald burns (thermal burns): Run cool tap water over the burn for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not use ice.
    • Electrical burns: After the person has been separated from the electrical source, check for breathing and a heartbeat. If the person is not breathing or does not have a heartbeat, call 911.
    • Chemical burns: Natural foods such as chili peppers, which contain a substance irritating to the skin, can cause a burning sensation. When a chemical burn occurs, find out what chemical caused the burn. Call your local Poison Control Center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) for more information about how to treat the burn.
    • Tar or hot plastic burns: Immediately run cold water over the hot tar or hot plastic to cool the tar or plastic.
  • Next, look for other injuries. The burn may not be the only injury.
  • Remove any jewelry or clothing at the site of the burn. If clothing is stuck to the burn, do not remove it. Carefully cut around the stuck fabric to remove loose fabric. Remove all jewelry, because it may be hard to remove it later if swelling occurs.

Prepare for an evaluation by a doctor

If you are going to see your doctor soon:

  • Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Do not put any salve or medicine on the burned area, so your doctor can properly assess your burn.
  • Do not put ice or butter on the burned area, because these measures do not help and can damage the skin tissue.

Home treatment for minor burns

  • For home treatment of first-degree burns and sunburns:
    • Use cool cloths on burned areas.
    • Take frequent cool showers or baths.
    • Apply soothing lotions that contain aloe vera to burned areas to relieve pain and swelling. Applying 0.5% hydrocortisone cream to the burned area also may help. Note: Do not use the cream on children younger than age 2 unless your doctor tells you to. Do not use in the rectal or vaginal area of children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to.
  • There isn't much you can do to stop skin from peeling after a sunburn—it is part of the healing process. Lotion may help relieve the itching.
  • Other home treatment measures, such as chamomile, may help relieve your sunburn symptoms.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 27, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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