Merck Manual

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Small, Shallow Burns

Small, Shallow Burns

Most people who sustain small burns attempt to treat them at home rather than visit the doctor. Indeed, simple first-aid measures may be all that is necessary to treat small, shallow burns that are clean. In general, a clean burn is one that affects only clean skin and that does not contain any dirt particles or food. Running room temperature water over the burn can help relieve pain. Covering the burn with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment and a nonstick, sterile bandage can help prevent infection.

Generally, a doctor’s examination and treatment are recommended if a tetanus vaccination is needed. Likewise, a doctor should examine a burn if it has any of the following characteristics:

  • Is larger than the size of the person’s open hand

  • Contains blisters

  • Darkens or breaks the skin

  • Involves the face, hand, foot, genitals, or skinfolds

  • Is not completely clean

  • Causes pain that is not relieved by acetaminophen

  • Causes pain that does not decrease within one day after the burn was sustained