Burns – When to See a Doctor?

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Burns, no matter how small, can be very unpleasant. You can get different types of burns from fire, radiation, heat, electricity, boiling water, certain chemicals, and even sunlight. While most small burns do not warrant a doctor’s attention and can be treated at home, you need to be sure that the burns are minor enough to skip a trip to the doctor. There are three degrees of burns. Here’s how to identify them.

First Degree Burns
First degree burns affect the top layer of the skin, are painful, and make your skin red. They may cause a little swelling on the skin, and are likely to become white when pressed. The skin on the burned area may start peeling off in a couple of days.

Second Degree Burns
Second degree burns are deeper in the skin, very painful, and are more likely to produce blisters. They make the skin very swollen, splotchy, and quite red compared to first degree burns. Second degree burns usually take 2-3 weeks to heal.

Third Degree Burns
Third degree burns are the most severe type. They turn the skin white or charred and induce numbness. These types of burns generally do not cause any pain because the tissues and sensory nerves in the skin are damaged. If you have the slightest doubt of a third degree burn, you should seek medical assistance immediately. These burns take a very long time to heal, in addition to leaving scars and marks on the skin.

When to See a Doctor
Whether your burns need a doctor’s attention or not, depends on several factors including the degree of the burn, the location on the body, the source of the burn, and the depth of skin damage.

Any kind of burns that pose a risk of damage to your airway, are on your face, over a major joint (such as the shoulder or knee), on the genitals, or on the hands warrant a doctor’s attention immediately. Any third degree burn requires instant medical attention.

Treating Burns at Home
If, and when you know that your burns don’t require a medical practitioner’s attention, try aloe vera gels and anti-inflammatory medicines for pain relief.

For second degree burns, you will have to care for them. Keep the burned area clean and protected so it doesn’t get infected. Apply antibiotic ointments and keep the affected areas covered with gauze and bandages. Change the dressing regularly, or if it gets dirty or wet. You may need an oral antibiotic if the redness starts spreading into healthy unaffected skin.

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