Most minor burns can be treated at home. They usually heal within a couple of weeks.
For serious burns, after appropriate first aid and wound assessment, your treatment may involve medications, wound dressings, therapy and surgery. The goals of treatment are to control pain, remove dead tissue, prevent infection, reduce scarring risk and regain function.
People with severe burns may require treatment at specialized burn centers. They may need skin grafts to cover large wounds. And they may need emotional support and months of follow-up care, such as physical therapy.
After you have received first aid for a major burn, your medical care may include medications and products that are intended to encourage healing.
- Water-based treatments. Your care team may use techniques such as ultrasound mist therapy to clean and stimulate the wound tissue.
- Fluids to prevent dehydration. You may need intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration and organ failure.
- Pain and anxiety medications. Healing burns can be incredibly painful. You may need morphine and anti-anxiety medications — particularly for dressing changes.
- Burn creams and ointments. If you are not being transferred to a burn center, your care team may select from a variety of topical products for wound healing, such as bacitracin and silver sulfadiazine (Silvadene). These help prevent infection and prepare the wound to close.
- Dressings. Your care team may also use various specialty wound dressings to prepare the wound to heal. If you are being transferred to a burn center, your wound will likely be covered in dry gauze only.
- Drugs that fight infection. If you develop an infection, you may need IV antibiotics.
- Tetanus shot. Your doctor might recommend a tetanus shot after a burn injury.
If the burned area is large, especially if it covers any joints, you may need physical therapy exercises. These can help stretch the skin so that the joints can remain flexible. Other types of exercises can improve muscle strength and coordination. And occupational therapy may help if you have difficulty doing your normal daily activities.
To treat minor burns, you may follow these home remedies:
- Cool the burn. Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water or apply a cool, wet compress until the pain eases. Don't use ice. Putting ice directly on a burn can cause further damage to the tissue.
- Remove rings or other tight items. Try to do this quickly and gently, before the burned area swells.
- Don't break blisters. Fluid-filled blisters protect against infection. If a blister breaks, clean the area with water (mild soap is optional). Apply an antibiotic ointment. But if a rash appears, stop using the ointment.
- Apply lotion. Once a burn is completely cooled, apply a lotion, such as one that contains aloe vera or a moisturizer. This helps prevent drying and provides relief.
- Bandage the burn. Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage (not fluffy cotton). Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin. Bandaging keeps air off the area, reduces pain and protects blistered skin.
- Take a pain reliever. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), can help relieve pain.
- Consider a tetanus shot. Make sure that your tetanus booster is up to date. Doctors recommend that people get a tetanus shot at least every 10 years.