Minor Burns - Treatment and Basic Care

In this text we will address minor burns, those that do not require treatment at the hospital level. We will emphasize basic care and how to treat minor burns.

First and second degree burns
First and second degree burns

Degree of burns

  • First degree burns: are those that involve only the epidermis, the most superficial layer of the skin.
  • Second degree burns: are those that involve the epidermis and the dermis, the deepest layer of the skin.
  • Third degree burns: are those that involve all layers of the skin and subcutaneous tissues, such as muscles, nerves, blood vessels, tendons etc.

Definition of minor burns

Most people think that a minor or simple burn is something like those small burns that occur when leaning on a hot pot or after a day of sun without sunscreen. In fact, we consider mild burns those that do not carry a risk of death or cause metabolic changes in the body that require in-hospital treatment.

Within this concept may include deep burns and risk of deforming healing, those common sense would never call simple burn.

The severity of the burn depends on the degree, the cause, the potential for complications and, especially, the extent of the injury. The aesthetic appearance of the lesion does not serve to define the severity of a burn. Therefore, you may even have a small 3rd degree burn and still be considered a mild burn.

Therefore, we consider a minor burn when it has the following characteristics:
  • There are only 1st degree burns.
  • Second degree burns affect less than 10% of an adult's body surface (about 7.5 cm in greatest diameter).
  • Second degree burns affect less than 5% of the body surface of a child or the elderly.
  • 3rd degree burns affect less than 2% of the body surface and there are no other associated traumatic injuries.

In addition to the above requirements, to be considered a simple burn it is also necessary that:
  • The burn is insulated (without inhaling hot air or burning by electricity).
  • It does not affect eyes or large areas of the face, hands, perineum or feet.
  • Do not completely involve large joints such as knees or shoulders, for example.
  • Do not involve an area of the body circumferentially (in the form of a bracelet, collar or ring), as burned areas become swollen, and circumferential burns can obstruct blood flow to adjacent regions.

The above criteria serve to evaluate the need for hospitalization. However, the fact that a burn is not considered moderate or severe does not necessarily eliminate the need for medical evaluation.

Any burn that destroys the superficial layer of the skin or involves an extension of more than 1% of the body (equivalent to the size of a palm) should be evaluated by a physician. The same goes for any electric burn or chemical products.

The most common form of minor burn is through exaggerated sun exposure without sunscreen. Accidents in the kitchen during the preparation of food are also common, especially if there is frying with oil.

Treatment of minor burns

Surface burns

The first steps after a burn are to cool and clean it. Start with cold running tap water for up to 15 minutes. Caution: the water must be cold, not icy. Never place ice in the lesions, as it can also burn the skin and worsen the condition.

Initially you do not need any specific cleaning products, just plain water and soap. Do not apply any substances on the lesion , especially butter, oils, toothpaste, coffee, etc. These home remedies to treat burns do not work, can aggravate the injury and even increase the risk of wound infection.

If the skin is not intact, do not apply any substance that has not been indicated by a doctor. The vast majority of homemade anti-burn recipes do more harm than good.

If the burn is simple, small and superficial, medical care may not be necessary and, after proper cooling and cleaning of the wound, a moisturizer based on aloe vera or Vaseline may be applied.

In most cases, 1st degree burns heal spontaneously after 3 to 6 days.

Deeper burns

If skin is damaged, wrap the lesion with wet compresses or gauze (preferably sterile). Do not use materials that may stick to your skin, such as cotton. If you need to wear bandages, be careful not to make compression on the burn. Always try to protect the skin without pressing it.

Remove any clothing or object that is on the injury. If they are adhered to, do not force yourself to injure your skin any further; let a doctor solve the problem.

If there are bubbles, never burst them; if there is hanging skin, do not start it. If there are signs of charred or dead skin, let the doctor decide how to proceed. Be careful when cleaning the wound.

If there are no contraindications, the patient may take an analgesic, such as acetaminophen or dipyrone for pain control. Burns of the first degree or superficial degree are very painful. If the burn is large, an opioid analgesic for pain relief, such as tramadol, is often needed.

Again, if the injury is extensive or there is damage to the skin's surface layer, seek medical attention.

Any patient with burns that causes exposure of the deeper layers of the skin should receive tetanus vaccine.

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