How Can You Tell if a Burn Needs Medical Attention?

How Can You Tell if a Burn Needs Medical Attention? Burn injuries vary in their severity, from a surface level first-degree burn to a third-degree burn that can be life-threatening. Whether you are injured in an accident at home, on the job or elsewhere, you may wonder how you can tell if a burn injury is serious enough to require medical attention.

We’re not doctors, so if you are hurt, you should seek medical advice. However, there are certain signs and symptoms that the medical community advises you to look for when trying to determine whether its time to see the doctor, or if you can safely treat your burn with first aid where you are.

Levels of burn injuries

Burns are categorized by degrees. The higher the degree, the more severe the burn injury. The categories are:

  • First-degree burns, which can cause red, non-blistered skin. These burns damage the outer layer of skin, but are the quickest to heal (provided you don’t have any underlying injuries or conditions).
  • Second-degree burns, which are more painful and can cause blisters and swelling. These burns damage both the outer and inner layers of skin.
  • Third-degree burns, which are the most severe. Tissue and nerve damage can occur, and the burn itself can appear white and leathery looking.

Beyond third-degree burns are fourth-degree burns, which include all the damage done by a third-degree burn, but the injury extends beyond the skin into the tendons and bones. Fourth-degree burns are often fatal.

What are the signs a burn requires medical attention?

The Mayo Clinic recommends that you see a doctor for a burn injury if:

  • The burns cover the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a large area of the body
  • The burn look deep, which means it is affecting all layers of the skin or deeper tissues
  • Burns that make the skin look leathery
  • Burns that appear charred or have patches of black, brown or white
  • Chemical or electrical burns
  • If you have difficulty breathing or if your airway has been burned

Another sign that a burn is serious is a lack of pain. This is because a third- or fourth-degree burn can damage the nerve endings. If the nerves are damaged, the injury victim likely can’t feel pain associated with the burn, indicating the injury has gone very deep.

If your child sustains a burn injury, you should seek medical attention regardless of the severity.

Tips for treating a burn at home

Everyday Health offers the following tips for treating first-degree burns that do not require immediate medical assistance at home:

  • Run cool (not cold) water over the burned area, and then hold a cold compress on it until the pain subsides. (Do not ice a burn.)
  • Cover the burn using a dry, sterile bandage and use an antibiotic ointment if desired to protect the wound.
  • Anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as acetaminophen and Ibuprofen can be used to relieve the pain from the burn.
  • Burn injuries can lead to tetanus, so make sure that the person who has been burned has an up-to-date tetanus vaccination. (Tetanus shots last ten years.)
  • Mild chemical burns should be treated by first removing the chemical from the skin. Brush off dry chemicals and place the burned person in a cool shower for 15 to 20 minutes.

What are some of the causes of burn injuries?

Burns have many causes including the following:

  • Fire or flames
  • Steam
  • Scalding from hot liquids
  • Electricity
  • Sunlight
  • Heated metal, glass or other hot objects
  • Chemicals

If you have been injured in a car accident or if your burn injury was the result of a fire or explosion, or any other incident that was the result of someone else’s negligence, you must seek medical attention immediately and inform the medical professional that you received the injury in an accident. Your medical records are a vital piece of evidence should you decide to take legal action against the person responsible for your injuries.

Hopefully, these tips from medical experts will be helpful as you decide whether your burn injury requires medical attention.

The burn injury lawyers at Larson Law Firm, P.C. are here to protect your rights when you have suffered  an accident. We’re here to represent the injured people of North Dakota in all of their legal needs. Call us today at 701-484-HURT or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation at our office in Minot.


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