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Treatment of Minor Burns

What is a burn?

A burn is damage to the skin or tissues caused by contact with an electrical current or a hot source. Burns can be classified as First,Second, Third and Fourth degrees.

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns involve only the outer layer of skin, which is the epidermis. These burns usually appear red and swollen. There is no blistering with first-degree burns. These burns usually heal within 3-6 days without permanent scarring.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns involve the epidermis and some or all of the dermis. (The dermis is the layer below the epidermis.) Blistering is usually noted with second-degree burns, which are red in color. However, a deep second-degree burn may appear white in color and often is not painful. Second-degree burns usually heal in 10-21 days, but may be associated with significant scarring.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-Degree Burns involve the entire dermis and destroy the hair follicles and sweat glands. These burns are white in appearance and also are not painful. Third degree burns require skin grafting to heal properly. Fourth-degree burns occur when the injury extends to the bone, and are often seen with electrical burns.

Some second degree burns and all third and fourth degree burns require immediate medical attention.

A burn on the hands, face or genitals requires immediate medical attention.

How is a first-degree burn treated?

  1. Cool the burn under running water for several minutes
  2. Soothe the area with Aloe Vera cream or burn ointment
  3. Take Tylenol or Ibuprofen per the bottle directions for pain
  4. Monitor site for blistering
  5. Apply Bacitracin or Neosporin
  6. If you have concerns or questions about the burn site, contact your primary care physician

How is a minor second-degree burn treated?

  1. Submerge the burned area in cold water as soon as possible. Keep the burned area in cold water for 5 minutes
  2. Treat the area the same as first degree burns, although your doctor may prescribe Silvadene cream (instead of Bacitracin or Neosporin)
  3. If blisters occur, leave them alone. Do not break the blisters. Apply sterile gauze over blisters if clothing irritates the site
  4. If the blisters open on their own, clean with water and apply Silvadene or antibiotic ointment
  5. Do not touch the burn site with dirty hands
  6. Monitor the site for yellow drainage or for infection. Contact your doctor if this occurs or if you have any questions or concerns

What can be done to prevent burns?

  1. Supervise children closely around fires, hot items, and electrical outlets
  2. Have smoke alarms installed in your home
  3. Have a fire extinguisher available in your home
  4. Set your water heater at 120° F or less
  5. Teach children to stop, drop and roll
  6. If a person is on fire, smother the fire with a blanket or other clothing item

When in doubt or if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call.

En Español

This information, although based on a thorough knowledge and careful review of current medical literature, is the opinion of doctors at The University of Texas Medical School and is presented to inform you about surgical conditions. It is not meant to contradict any information you may receive from your personal physician and should not be used to make decisions about surgical treatment. If you have any questions about the information above or your child's care, please contact our doctors.