Managing pain is one of the first things you have to do for burns. But how do you stop a burn from hurting? How do you treat a burn blister? Is it okay to use home remedies for minor burns? Here is more on Do’s and Don’ts in managing minor or first degree burns.
Generally, burns are classified as First Degree, Second Degree or Third Degree. This depends on severity and how deep they penetrate the skin surface. The first and second degree burns will most times heal on their own. Home treatment with natural remedies, painful relievers and tender care is all that is needed. The main objectives are usually relieving symptoms and to promote healing.
There are different ways of classifying burns depending on the severity, location and size of burns. This classification will help determine severity of burns in terms of depth from the first to fourth degree.
First Degree Burns
- Also known as superficial burns
- Only affect the epidermis which is the outer layer of the skin
- Symptoms include; redness, dry skin, pain but NO BLISTERS
First degree burns can almost always be managed at home with simple remedies
Second Degree Burns
- Also known as partial degree burns
- They involve the epidermis and part of the dermis
- Symptoms include; redness, swelling, pain and blistering
Third Degree Burns
- Full thickness burns
- The burn destroys the epidermis and the dermis
- May sometimes get to the subcutaneous tissue
- The burn appears white or charred
Fourth Degree Burns
- Cause damage to the underlying bones, muscle and tendons
- The nerves are destroyed, so there will be no sensation of pain
What to Put on a Burn from Boiling Water
Burns from boiling water are also known as scalds. Scalds may be caused by hot liquid such as boiling water or steam. They are characterized with redness, peeling of the skin, swelling and blistering. The skin may be white or charred.
- Remove the burnt body part from the heat as soon as possible.
- Cool the skin -Pour cold water over the scald for at least 10 minutes. You can use a pan of water, a cup of place the burnt area under cold running tap water. This will also help to reduce the pain. DO NOT use ice/ice cold water- it may worsen the burn.
- Examine– Once the pain has subsided, examine the burn to determine severity. Any burn above the second degree should be managed at the hospital. First degree burns that cover more than one percent of the body should also be managed by a professional.
- Remove clothing and jewelry from the scalded area before the skin starts to swell. Do not force clothes and jewelry that is stuck to the skin.
- Dry the Burn– Pat the skin dry. DO NOT use rubbing motions.
- Only apply Prescribed Ointment.
- Protect the Burn– Loosely cover the burn with a clean medical grade gauze (or a clean piece of cloth). This will protect the skin tissue from further damage and also prevent infections from setting in. Ensure the gauze goes on loosely to allow for sufficient circulation and aeration. Change the gauze at least once daily
- Elevate the affected part of the body to a level above the heart.
- DO NOT pop blisters
Heat from a burn is absorbed quickly to deeper layers of the skin. The best thing to do for burns from boiling water is to act as fast as possible.
How do you treat a Burn Blister?
Burn blisters are bumps that result from burns. They are filled with fluid. Blisters form once the dermis (second layer) of the skin is destroyed. Treatment of burn blisters depends on whether the blister is open or closed.
Open blisters are at a higher risk of getting infected.
Open Burn Blisters
- Cool the burn area with cool water for 10-15 minutes. This should be done as soon as possible. If you are doing this under a faucet, make sure the flow of the water is gentle to avoid making more damage to the wounded skin.
- Air dry or pat dry using a clean towel.
- Apply prescribed antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin
- Cover the burn with sterile gauze or a clean piece of cloth
- Change the gauze at least once every 24 hours
- To remove the gauze, spray some warm water on it to soften it and also to prevent pulling out skin that is stuck onto the gauze.
- Check for signs of infection such as yellow or green colored discharge or warm, red and swollen edges. If any of these signs are present, seek immediate medical attention.
- Reapply ointment, wrap with a new, clean gauze.
- Repeat this procedure until the skin heals with new tissue formation.
Closed Burn Blisters
- Cool the burn under cool running water
- Gently wash the blister using warm water and mild antibacterial soap. DO NOT rub the area.
- Allow to air dry or pat dry
- What to put on a blister– Apply antibiotic ointment. Use a large amount to help keep the area moist and promote faster healing.
- Cover the blister with clean gauze. Change the gauze every 24 hours or until it is wet or dirty.
- Repeat step 4 and 5 daily
- If the pain becomes unbearable after a few days, have a doctor pop it for you under sterile conditions. Popping blisters on your own could cause an infection.
- Remove any dead skin using a sterile scissors
- You can stop bandaging the burn once the skin turns pink- this is a sign that new skin has formed.
How to Stop Burn Pain
While burns are common, they cause extremely painful injuries. They can cause intense and sometimes prolonged pain. Burn pain varies depending on the level of damage to the nerves in the skin.
It may interfere with your ability to work, quality of life and the healing process.
Most times with the management of burns is inadequate. We almost always focus on infection prevention. There are now more people advocating for better and aggressive management of burn pain
Take over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen. They will help the burn victim to cope better with the pain.
Burns cause both physical and mental pain. Especially with severe burns or burns on sensitive areas such as the face and genitals, psychological pain must also be addressed.
Burn pain can be a complex, unfortunate part of both the injury and the healing process. Note that, the level of pain is not related to the size or severity of the injury. It is possible to have small burns that are extremely painful and large ones that do not hurt as much.
Understanding your type of pain you are experiencing is an important aspect when trying to determine the best treatment.
Types of pain associated with burns
- Acute pain– It is short term but mostly intense pain. Happens during procedures such as physical therapy or dressing.
- Resting pain– this is pain that is almost always there
- Breakthrough pain– pain that is on and off all throughout the day. It is often due to the process of healing or tightening of skin and muscles (contractures).
- Chronic pain– it is the type of pain that lingers on for weeks or months after the burn is healed.
- Neuropathic pain– caused by damage or regeneration of nerve endings in your skin.
How to stop a Burn from Hurting
- Cool the burn with running water. DO NOT apply ice directly to the skin as it may worsen the injury.
- Use over the counter pain relievers such as NSAIDS (Ibuprofen). NSAIDS SHOULD NOT be used for long term management of pain. They can cause serious side effects.
- Opiates are the most common medications used in the hospitals. They are not used for management of chronic pain. Constipation is a common side effect. When appropriate, the doctor will taper off opiates to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
- Medications such as Pregabalin and Gabapentin are used to manage neuropathic pain.
- If pain is interfering with your sleep patterns, the doctor may prescribe sleep medications. DO NOT self-medicate with sleeping pills.
- Do not forget to watch for infection. Infection is one of the major causes of pain.
Other approaches to Burn Pain Management
- Relaxation techniques
- Engaging in other activities
Coping with pain comes down to individual ability to cope with pain and similar situations that cause physical discomfort. This will have a big impact on how much pain you experience and how much it bothers you.
It is very important to have the situation under control. Acceptance and working closely with your doctor can effectively help to cope with the process and effects of the burn injury. Focus on rehabilitation, physical therapy and treatments suggested by your doctor.
Home Remedies for Minor Burns
Using home remedies on burns is almost always discouraged. People have come up with an array of things that you can apply on burns to manage symptoms.
This is probably the most common home remedy for burns. Aloe vera is an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and astringent. It will help reduce pain and swelling. It will also help to stimulate repair and growth of new tissue.
- Cut an aloe vera leaf to expose the sap
- Apply the fresh gel onto the burn
If you do not have fresh aloe vera, you can use an antibacterial burn cream with aloe vera
Toothpaste for Burns
Putting toothpaste on a burn is a common practice. Most people can swear by its ability to sooth burns and ease pain. However, health experts warn against using toothpaste for burn treatment. It may cause irritation especially if used on sensitive parts such as the face. Toothpaste with mint may be too drying for the skin. Keep burns moist to encourage healing.
Some toothpastes may contain substances such as calcium which increase the risk of infection.
DO NOT use sugary, oily or greasy substances such as honey and butter to treat minor burns. These will almost always attract infection causing bacteria.
- Cool the burn for at least 10-15 minutes
- Do not expose the burn to the sun
- DO not use home remedies such as butter on the burn
- Seek medical attention for serious burns
- Again DO NOT pop blisters on your own
Know when to Seek Treatment
- Large burns- more than 1% of the body mass- larger than the size of the hand
- Electrical and chemical burns. Electrical burns may not look serious but can be very damaging.
- Burns on the face or genitals
- Inhalation Burns
- Burns on children under 5 years old, pregnant women and diabetics
Sources and References