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From Campfires to BBQs and Beyond: When to Seek Medical Attention for a Burn

Hot town, summer in the city – and significantly more opportunities for burns. From accidents at the campfire, to blisters caused from barbecue grills, to scalds from scorching hot pavement – there are multiple ways you may find yourself seeking medical attention for a burn. But what constitutes an emergency, and what injuries can you treat at home?

Here are four hot tips to keep in mind when determining if you need to seek medical attention for a burn.

  1. Who was burned?

If you are the parent of an infant or a toddler who has sustained a burn, seek medical attention promptly – regardless of the severity.

Diabetics and individuals with chronic medical conditions and senior citizens may also wish to seek medical attention for minor or moderate burns, as their rate of healing may be impacted.

  1. What kind of burn you have?

Burns are graded based on their severity, or the breadth and the depth of the burn.

  • First-degree burns: The least severe of the three grades, first degree burns only affect the outer layer of skin (epidermis), though they may result in pain, redness, and swelling. First degree burns can largely be treated at home. Soak in cool water for several minutes to reduce swelling and draw heat from the burn. Administer an antibiotic ointment (and/or aloe, if available) and wrap lightly with gauze when possible. OTC pain relief like Ibuprofen or Tylenol can help with pain management.
  • Second-degree burns: Red, white, or splotchy skin can result from what is also called a “full thickness burn,” which is a more serious injury affecting the epidermis and the second layer of skin, the dermis. However, if only a few inches, it can still be treated at home – rinsing with cool water for an extended period of time. Seek medical attention for this burn if it is significant, and particularly if affecting the face, hands, feet, the buttocks, or joints.
  • Third-degree burns: Third-degree burns damages all three layers of skin, including the subcutaneous layer which is composed of fat and connective tissue. These kinds of burns require immediate medical attention. These burns are leathery and dry in appearance, or can be black, brown, yellow, or white in color. Skin often swells, and occasionally there is no pain as the nerves have been impacted.
  • Fourth-degree burn: Fourth-degree burns destroy skin, tissue, tendons, and can potentially damage muscle and bone, as well. It is the deepest and most serious of all burns and can be a life-threatening condition.

If you believe you have sustained a third or fourth-degree burn – particularly those with open blisters – DO NOT remove any clothing that may be sticking to it; DO NOT soak; and DO NOT apply any medications.

  1. Seek immediate medical attention for burns if any of the following occur:
  • The burn was caused by chemicals or electricity. (Electrical burns may at first appear superficial, but may, in fact, have damaged tissue below. It is best to seek medical attention.
  • You are experiencing difficulty breathing, or if you have burned your airways.
  • Signs of infection are present, such as oozing.
  • Conditions worsen, and you experience increased pain, swelling, or redness.
  • You have extensive scarring.
  1. Practice prevention.

There are so many possible ways to suffer a burn. The best advice is to remain alert at all times, and aware of your surroundings. But keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t leave the stove unattended when cooking and always turn pot handles toward the rear.
  • Do not allow children to play near the stove while you are cooking or when the burners are still warm.
  • Be certain to unplug irons and other tools when not in use, and store out of reach of children.
  • Always wear protective gear and eyewear when using chemicals.
  • Set your water heater thermostat below 120 F and always test bath water before usage.
  • Stay alert and be cognizant of outside dangers, particularly in environments where open flames, chemicals, or extremely hot materials are present.


FirstCall Medical Center provides care for a wide range of medical services, including burns. If you or a friend or family member is injured this summer, call us at (410)694-7999. You can also schedule an appointment today!