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How to Soothe Burns

Whether it's from staying out too long in the sun or accidentally touching a hot pot handle, minor thermal burns are a common occurrence among adults and children. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1.1 million people experience burns requiring medical attention every year, with many more suffering mild burns that can be treated at home 2. Mild burns are characterized by reddish skin, swelling, moderate pain or topical blisters that respond to first-aid treatment.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Assess whether the burn is appropriate for at-home treatment. Mild to moderate sunburns and burns -- reddened skin which may blister -- received from touching hot surfaces can usually be treated at home, provided the burn isn't on the hands, face, feet, groin or major joint, or over a large area of the body. Seek immediate medical attention if your burn affects these areas, or your burned skin is white or charred.

Hold the burned area under cool running water for 10 to 15 minutes, immediately after receiving the injury, to temporarily relieve pain and reduce swelling. Or, apply cool compresses to the skin. Avoid cold water or ice, which can lower your body temperature and cause more damage to the burned skin.

Apply the sterile non-stick gauze bandage to the burned area to protect blistered skin from air and lint. Avoid breaking blisters, which may increase risk of infection. Change the bandage every 48 hours.

Moisturize sunburns, which are usually too large to wrap in a bandage, with aloe vera gel. Apply the gel liberally until it's absorbed by the skin.

Take a nonprescription pain reliever such as aspirin (Bayer), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) or naproxen sodium (Naprosyn, Aleve) according to dosage instructions to minimize discomfort, if approved by your doctor.

Allow the burn to heal while watching for signs of infection, which include increasing pain, redness, swelling, fever or oozing. Call your doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.

Treat the burned skin gently, even after healing. Wear sunscreen over the area to avoid tanning or re-injuring the skin for at least a year.

Warnings

For severe burns with charring of the skin, or if you suffer breathing problems, carbon monoxide poisoning or shock, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

The Wrap Up

Whether it's from staying out too long in the sun or accidentally touching a hot pot handle, minor thermal burns are a common occurrence among adults and children. Hold the burned area under cool running water for 10 to 15 minutes, immediately after receiving the injury, to temporarily relieve pain and reduce swelling. Apply the sterile non-stick gauze bandage to the burned area to protect blistered skin from air and lint. Wear sunscreen over the area to avoid tanning or re-injuring the skin for at least a year.

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