Avoid Infection: First Aid for Burns
Minor burn injuries can be painful, and if they are not treated appropriately, they could lead to an infection. If you take the appropriate steps following a minor burn, you can reduce your chances of the burn becoming infected.
What is a minor burn? This is a burn that is generally a first-degree burn. A first-degree burn affects only the outer layer of the skin. You may have some minor pain, redness, or discomfort around the site of the burn injury. 1
Learn more about how to treat minor burns below, and make sure you are familiar with how to prevent burn infection.
First Aid for Burns: What To Do
As soon as you realize you have suffered a minor burn, there are several steps you should take. That way, you can reduce your chances of dealing with complications, such as a burn infection. Some of the steps you should follow include: 2
- First, run cool water over the burn until the pain goes away. Avoid using ice-cold water (or an ice pack), as it could make the burn injury worse. Be patient, as this process could take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the severity of the injury.
- Once the discomfort has subsided, apply some antibiotic ointment or cream to the burn injury. That way, you can reduce your chances of dealing with an infection.
- Finally, use a clean bandage to cover the burn. Sterile gauze or a clean pad is fine, but you might need to tape it in place to prevent the bandage from moving.
There are different types of antibiotic ointment and creams you can use to prevent infected burns. For example, you may want to try Polysporin® Complete Antibiotic Ointment or Polysporin® Plus Pain Relief Cream that provides infection protection and fast-acting pain relief to speed healing.3
Can burns become infected?
Yes, it is possible for a minor burn to become infected. Your skin is your first layer of defense against infection, and it is technically your largest immune organ.4 Your skin is a barrier against viruses and bacteria that might otherwise cause an infection.5
If you suffer a burn injury, that layer of skin might be broken. This creates a portal of entry through which bacteria and viruses can enter, ultimately resulting in an infection.4
There are several signs that could indicate that the burn has gotten infected. They include: 6
- You might develop a fever, which is a temperature greater than 38 degrees C.
- You may notice some swelling or redness spreading from the site of the burn.
- You may notice some pus coming from your burn that is yellow or green.
- The area of your burn might feel a bit warmer when compared to the rest of your body.
By following the appropriate steps for how to treat minor burns on fingers, you can prevent an infection from taking place, which could expedite the recovery process.
How to prevent a burn infection
If you are wondering how to prevent a burn infection from taking place, there are a few important tips you should follow. They include:
- If you have any blisters on your skin, do not pop them. If you pop the blisters, you disrupt the integrity of the skin. This makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter your body, which could result in an infection.7
- You should also change your bandage at least twice per day. If the bandage appears to get wet during the course of the day, you might need to change it more often. Keeping the burn covered with a clean bandage can prevent an infection from happening.7
- Always apply antibiotic cream or ointment to the side of the burn.8 Take a look at the instructions on the package to make sure you apply it as frequently as necessary.
- When you shower, do not rub the burn with a towel. You may unintentionally rub away some of the new skin. Instead, pat the area dry with your towel.9
Following these tips can help you keep the burn injury clean, expedite the healing process, and reduce your chances of the burn getting infected.
How to treat an infected burn at home
There are a few ways you can treat an infected burn at home. You should continue to follow many of the firstaid steps outlined above, as you still need to support your body as it recovers from the initial injury. A few steps you need to follow include:
- You may notice so-me additional discomfort coming from the site of your burn, so you may want to take some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.10
- You should continue to apply antibiotic ointment or cream to the burn.11
- You should continue changing the bandage regularly, but you may want to change it more often if the burn has gotten infected.7
- If the infection continues to get worse, it can lead to serious complications.
Therefore, you should consider reaching out to a medical provider. Depending on the severity of the burn, you may require oral antibiotics.12
How long does it take to cool a burn down?
So, how long does it take to cool a minor burn? As soon as you realize you have suffered a burn injury, you should run the injury under cool or lukewarm water. You should continue running the burn under water until the pain goes away.2
The exact amount of time it will take for the burn to cool down will depend on the size of the burn, the severity of the burn injury, and the temperature of the water.2 You do not want the water to be too cold, as it could unintentionally make the injury worse. It is also not unusual for this process to take up to 30 minutes, so you should be patient.2
When to see a doctor
If you follow the steps above, you should be able to reduce your chances of dealing with an infected burn. Most minor burns can be treated successfully at home; however, there are a few signs that could indicate that you need to see a medical professional. They include:13
- If it looks like the area of discoloration around the burn is getting larger, you need to see a doctor. It could indicate that an infection is spreading.
- If you experience any sign of altered mental status, it might be a sign that toxic shock is developing, which is a medical emergency. You need to see a doctor immediately.
- If you have any difficulty moving the site of the burn injury, you need to see a doctor.
If you treat the burn promptly and properly, you should be able to recover at home. At the same time, remember that you can reach out to a trained medical professional if you have questions or concerns about the recovery process. If you feel like the burn injury is getting worse, you should call the doctor to make an appointment.