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If the burn is larger than the size of your hand, then it’s worth coming in. If it’s blistering, or if you’re sloughing skin down to the bone, muscle, or deep tissues, then it should definitely be looked at. And if it’s across genitalia, or if it’s on a young child, then you need to go to the emergency room.
All burns other than a sunburn or slight redness should be assessed by a medical professional. They can then guide you as to whether you need to be referred to a burn center. A serious burn should be rushed to the ER. A burn that is blistering (fluid-filled bubble or separation of skin) or a burn that appears leather-like should be assessed. Any large burn or a third-degree burn or burn involving special areas such as hands, face and feet should be seen in a burn center. Special burns, such as chemical or electrical, should also be assessed in a burn center. Children and the elderly should also be assessed if burned.
A sign that you should see a doctor is when the burn seems like it's getting worse every day. In this video, Alexander Majidian, MD, FACS of the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital, discusses some symptoms of a bad burn.
Seek medical attention for your burn when the burn is at least 5% of your total body surface area, deep 2nd degree or 3 degree burn, involves the vital facial structures (peri-oral or peri-orbital areas), inhalation injury, or signs of infection (fever, celluitis, increase swelling, or pain).
A person who experiences a first-degree burn larger than three inches in diameter, or if it’s on the face or a major joint, should seek medical care. Most first-degree burns can be treated at home.
Second-degree burns require medical care if the burn(s) affect a widespread area of the face, hands, buttocks, groin or feet. Otherwise, most second-degree burns can be treated by running cool water over the affected area for 15 minutes, taking over-the-counter pain medication (as needed) and applying antibiotic cream to the blisters.
A third-degree burn requires immediate medical attention. Surgical, medical and other treatments may be necessary to help this type of wound heal properly.
About 85% of burns are treatable in an outpatient facility.
The American Burn Association (ABA) recommends that anyone who has sustained the following burn injuries should be referred to a burn center:
- Partial thickness burns greater than 10% of the total body surface area
- Burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitalia, perineum, or joints
- Any third-degree burn in any age group.
- Electrical burns
- Chemical burns
- Any burn with an inhalation injury
- A burn injury with any associated trauma such as fractures or head trauma
- Any burn in which recovery could be complicated by a patient’s preexisting medical conditions
When a burn exceeds 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter, seek medical assistance. If the burn occurs on your face, hands, scalp, joint area or other sensitive or thin-skinned area, you should see a doctor. If the burn is a chemical or electrical burn, call for emergency help.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.