Thermal Burns Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 16, 2022
3 min read
  • The burn penetrates all layers of the skin.
  • The skin is leathery or charred looking, with white, brown, or black patches.
  • The person is an infant or a senior.

1. Stop Burning Immediately

  • Put out fire or stop the person's contact with hot liquid, steam, or other material.
  • Help the person "stop, drop, and roll" to smother flames.
  • Remove smoldering material from the person.
  • Remove hot or burned clothing. If clothing sticks to skin, cut or tear around it.

2. Remove Constrictive Clothing Immediately

  • Take off jewelry, belts, and tight clothing. Burns can swell quickly.

Then take the following steps:

1. Cool Burn

  • Hold burned skin under cool (not cold) running water or immerse in cool water until the pain subsides.
  • Use compresses if running water isn't available.

2. Protect Burn

  • Cover with sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth.
  • Do not apply butter, oil, lotions, or creams (especially if they contain fragrance). Apply a petroleum-based ointment two to three times per day.

3. Treat Pain

  • Give over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Panadol, Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).

4. When to See a Doctor

Seek medical help if:

  • You see signs of infection, like increased pain, redness, swelling, fever, or oozing.
  • The person needs tetanus or booster shot, depending on date of last injection. Tetanus booster should be given every 10 years.
  • The burn blister is larger than two inches or oozes.
  • Redness and pain last more than a few hours.
  • The pain gets worse.
  • The hands, feet, face, or genitals are burned.

5. Follow Up

  • The doctor will examine the burn and may prescribe antibiotics and pain medication.

1. Cool Burn

  • Immerse in cool water for 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Use compresses if running water isn't available.
  • Don't apply ice. It can lower body temperature and cause further pain and damage.
  • Don't break blisters or apply butter or ointments, which can cause infection.

2. Protect Burn

  • Cover loosely with sterile, nonstick bandage and secure in place with gauze or tape.

3. Prevent Shock

Unless the person has a head, neck, or leg injury, or it would cause discomfort:

  • Lay the person flat.
  • Elevate feet about 12 inches.
  • Elevate burn area above heart level, if possible.
  • Cover the person with a coat or blanket.

4. See a Doctor

  • The doctor can test burn severity, prescribe antibiotics and pain medications, and administer a tetanus shot, if needed.

1. Call 911

2. Protect Burn Area

  • Cover loosely with sterile, nonstick bandage or, for large areas, a sheet or other material that that won't leave lint in wound.
  • Separate burned toes and fingers with dry, sterile dressings.
  • Do not soak the burn in water or apply ointments or butter, which can cause infection.

3. Prevent Shock

Unless the person has a head, neck, or leg injury or it would cause discomfort:

  • Lay the person flat.
  • Elevate feet about 12 inches.
  • Elevate burn area above heart level, if possible.
  • Cover the person with a coat or blanket.
  • For an airway burn, do not place a pillow under the person's head when the person is lying down. This can close the airway.
  • Have a person with a facial burn sit up.
  • Check pulse and breathing to monitor for shock until emergency help arrives.

4. See a Doctor

  • Doctors will give oxygen and fluid, if needed, and treat the burn.