Treating a Thermal Burn

Treating a thermal burn is different from treating a chemical or electrical burn. The skin coming into contact with a heat source such as a hot metal, flame, or a hot surface, solid or liquid, causes a thermal burn.

It is important to first remove the individual from the heat source so that the danger from the source can be stopped. Instruct or remind someone to STOP, DROP and ROLL if they are on fire and not already doing so. Use a heavy blanket, coat or rug to put out any flames for an individual unable to STOP, DROP and ROLL. Only after individuals are removed from the source of heat, can the heat from the burn be cooled down to prevent further damage to the skin. To cool down the affected skin area you can run cool water over the skin if there is no break in the skin. You can also soak the area in cool water. Never use ice water for cooling a burn or apply ice directly to burned skin as this can cause further damage to the skin tissue. Pain can be reduced or alleviated altogether by use of cool water compresses. If there are any blisters on the skin do NOT try to break them as this can lead to infection.

After cooling down the skin and giving immediate relief to the pain by cooling compresses you will need to cover the burned area with sterile, dry, gauze bandages or a clean sheet or cloth.

Never try to remove clothing that is stuck to the burned skin. If you must remove the clothing, cut around the stuck part.

Never apply butter, shortening or salve to a burn as it will prevent heat from escaping from the skin and delay the cooling process; only apply what a medical professional has prescribed for a burn. If the skin is broken, and antibacterial ointment may be used to prevent infection.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil) may be given in amounts prescribed by a doctor or written on the label of the product to help relieve pain and skin inflammation.

Should there be any of the following signs, notify a doctor immediately:

An increase in the level of pain

Pus or drainage from any broken skin on or around the burn

Swollen lymph nodes

Red streaks spreading away from the burned area of skin

The affected skin area increases in heat and/or becomes redder in color.

If burns are severe, life-saving measures (breathing rescue or CPR) may need to be taken before burn first aid can be administered. Call 911 immediately if the burns are serious. Children 4 years of age and under and adults over age 60 are at higher risk for complications from burns and should seek medical evaluation and treatment.