Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Burns and Electric Shock
Most burns are minor injuries that occur at
home or work. It is common to get a minor burn from hot water, a curling iron,
or touching a hot stove. Home treatment is usually all that is needed for
healing and to prevent other problems, such as infection.
many types of burns.
Breathing in hot air or gases can injure your lungs (inhalation injuries). Breathing in toxic gases, such as
carbon monoxide, can cause poisoning.
Burns injure the skin layers and can also injure other parts of the body, such
as muscles, blood vessels, nerves, lungs, and eyes. Burns are defined as
first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree, depending on how many
layers of skin and tissue are burned. The deeper the burn and the larger the
burned area, the more serious the burn is.
seriousness of a burn is determined by several
Burns affect people of all ages, though some are at higher
risk than others.
Babies and young children may have
a more severe reaction from a burn than an adult. A burn in an adult may cause
a minor loss of fluids from the body, but in a baby or young child, the same
size and depth of a burn may cause a severe fluid loss.
age determines how safe his or her environment needs to be, as well as how much
the child needs to be supervised. At each stage of a child's life, look for
burn hazards and use appropriate
safety measures. Since most burns happen in the home,
simple safety measures decrease the chance of
anyone getting burned. See the Prevention section of this topic.
When a child or
vulnerable adult is burned, it is important to find
out how the burn happened. If the reported cause of the burn does not match how
the burn looks,
abuse must be considered and resources for help, such as social services, offered. Self-inflicted burns will
require treatment as well as an evaluation of the person's emotional
Infection is a concern with all burns. Watch for
signs of infection during the healing process. Home
treatment for a minor burn will reduce the risk of infection. Deep burns with
open blisters are more likely to become infected and need medical
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
You may need a tetanus shot depending
on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
To clean a wound well:
If a chemical has caused a wound or burn, follow the instructions on the chemical's container or call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) to find out what to do. Most chemicals should be rinsed off with lots of water, but with some chemicals, water may make the burn worse.
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock in a child may include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock (most of which will be present) include:
Symptoms of infection may
Here are some ways to estimate how much of the body is burned in a baby or young child.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in adults and older children
Heartbeat changes can include:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Some common burn patterns and common areas for
burns that result from abuse include:
With burns caused by abuse, the explanation for the burn may not
match the size, shape, or location of the burn. But it still can be hard to
tell whether a burn was caused on purpose. A burn caused by throwing hot liquid
on someone may look just like a burn caused by an accidental spill.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
It can be hard to tell how deep a burn is.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Here are some ways to estimate how much of the body is burned in an adult or older child.
Most minor burns will heal on
their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your
symptoms and promote healing. But if you suspect you may have a more severe
injury, use first-aid measures while you arrange for an evaluation by your
If you are
going to see your doctor soon:
You may be able to treat second-degree burns at home.
First-degree burns and minor second-degree burns can be painful. Try the
following to help relieve your pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Some doctors suggest using skin lotions,
such as Vaseline Intensive Care or Lubriderm, on first-degree burns or
second-degree burns that have unbroken healing skin. These skin lotions can be
used to relieve itching but should not be used if the burns have fluid weeping
from them or have fresh scabs. An antihistamine, such as Benadryl or
Chlor-Trimeton, can also help stop the itching. Read and follow any warning on
When a first-degree burn or minor second-degree burn is
2 to 3 days old, using the juice from an aloe leaf can help the burn heal and
feel better. Applying the aloe juice may sting at first contact.
It is important to protect a burn while it is healing.
Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood
supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
Most burns happen in the home. Simple
safety measures decrease the chances
of anyone getting burned.
Your local fire department is a good resource for more
information on how to prevent fires, make a fire escape plan, use fire safety
devices, and provide first-aid treatment for burns.
Teach children safety rules for
matches, fires, electrical outlets, electrical cords, stoves, and chemicals.
Keep in mind
child safety considerations. Prevention tips for children include the following:
avoid placing camping tents under tall trees, near bodies of water, or on the
highest hill in an area. Seek shelter in a covered area, such as a car, if you
get caught outdoors in bad weather. If no shelter is available, lie on the
ground in a ditch or take cover in a thick grove of trees, where lightning
striking a single tree is unlikely.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.