How are burns managed or treated?

Burn treatment varies depending on the cause and severity. You need to keep all burns clean and apply proper bandages/dressing depending on the severity of the wounds. Treating the person’s pain is key: inadequate control can interfere with wound care.

Continue to check wounds for signs of infection and other long term issues, such as scarring and tightening of the skin over joints and muscles, which makes them difficult to move.

Treatments by burn type include:

  • First-degree burns: Run cool water over the burn. Don’t apply ice. For sunburns, apply aloe vera gel. For thermal burns, apply antibiotic cream and cover lightly with gauze. You can also take over-the-counter pain medication.
  • Second-degree burns: Treatment for second- and first-degree burns is similar. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger antibiotic cream that contains silver, such as silver sulfadiazine, to kill bacteria. Elevating the burned area can reduce pain and swelling.
  • Third-degree burns: Third-degree burns can be life-threatening and often require skin grafts. Skin grafts replace damaged tissue with healthy skin from another of the uninjured part of the person’s body. The area where the skin graft is taken from generally heals on its own. If the person does not have enough skin available for a graft at the time of injury, a temporary source of graft can come from a deceased donor or a human-made (artificial) source but these will eventually need to be replace by the person’s own skin. Treatment also includes extra fluids (usually given intravenously, with an IV) to keep blood pressure steady and prevent shock and dehydration.

What are the complications of burns?

Third-degree burns that are deep and affect a large portion of skin are very serious and can be life-threatening. Even first- and second-degree burns can become infected and cause discoloration and scarring. First-degree burns don’t cause scarring.

Potential complications of third-degree burns include:

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/24/2020.

References

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