How to Treat Burn Wounds?

Reviewed by Christine Kijek, Registered Colorectal Nurse, on October 10, 2022

Types of Burn      |    Treatment     |    Burn Dressings     |    Scarring

Burns can be a painful and dangerous type of wound. The type of treatment is dependent on the degree of the burn and the depth of damage in the tissue. Once the type of burn is determined the correct course of treatment will lead to healing and most importantly less pain for the burn victim. In all cases of burns, infection is a major concern. The first step in treating burn wounds is determining the type of burn. .

Types of Burn Wounds

First-Degree Burns:

A first-degree burn is the least serious in which only the outer layer of skin is burned but not all the way through. This skin is usually read and may contain some swelling. Pain is usually associated with this level of burn. These burns are treated as minor unless they cover a major portion of the feet, hands, face, groin or buttocks, or a major joint.

Second-degree Burns:

A second-degree burn is when the outer layer of skin is burned through and the second layer of skin (dermis) is injured as well. In this instance, blisters will develop, the skin will take on intensely reddened, splotchy appearance, and there is severe pain and swelling. If a second-degree burn is less than 3 inches in diameter, it can be treated as a minor burn. Anything larger or if the burn is on the feet, hands, face, groin or buttocks or over a major joint, should be treated as a major burn.

Third-degree Burns:

These burns involve all layers of skin and cause permanent tissue damage. Fat, muscle, and bone may all be affected. Areas may be charred black or appear dry and white. These are major burns and should be evaluated and treated immediately.

How to Treat Burn Wounds

Treatments for Burn Wounds

Minor Burns:

  • Rinse the burned area in cool water, do not apply ice or cold water since this can damage the burned area.

  • Next, use sterile gauze to pat the burn dry and apply a nonstick sterile gauze to the burn area, using rolled gauze to keep it in place.

  • Tape the rolled gauze so that it doesn’t move. Make sure to wrap the gauze loosely so there isn’t too much pressure on the wound.

  • Ointments should be avoided, since they may trap bacteria and increase the chance of infection.

  • A painkiller can be taken to reduce the pain.

How to Treat Burn Wounds

Major Burns:

Emergency medical help should be called immediately, but until medical help arrives there are treatments that can be followed.

  • Do not remove burned clothing, however, make sure the skin is no longer in contact with smoldering materials or fire/heat.
  • Large severe burns should not be immersed in cold water. This can lead to a drop in body temperature (hypothermia) and deterioration of blood pressure and circulation (shock).

  • Check for signs of circulation, breathing, or movement. If there is no breathing or a pulse begin CPR.

  • The burned body parts should be elevated above the victim’s heart and covered with a moist sterile bandage or a clean damp towel.

Types of Burn Dressings

  • Sterile Gauze: These bandages should be applied to minor wounds. Make sure to use sterile gauze to minimize the risk of infection. Elastic gauze is also available, but care should be taken not to wrap the burned area too tightly. Some gauze dressings incorporate a hydrogel (i.e., Amerigel Saturated Sterile Gauze Dressing) to help prevent infection and promote healing.



  • Silver Dressings:“Silver” cream dressings (Silvadene) discourage bacteria growth and encourage healing. After approximately one week, fluid and dead skin should be gone and a regular bandage (gauze) should be applied. Wounds treated with synthetic skin do seem to heal faster than those treated just with silver dressings.



  • Non-Adhesive Dressing: Non-adherent dressings have a soft silicone that covers the wound without adhering, therefore minimizing pain and discomfort with dressing changes. They incorporate a moist layer (usually a silver-based cream) to keep the wound moist and promote healing. Wound depth will determine the choice of dressing, however using inappropriate dressings can cause delayed healing along with pain and discomfort.


Scarring From Burn Wounds

While using the right dressing is critical to the quick healing of burn wounds, it does not always guarantee the scarring outcome. the outcome of scarring. First-degree burns are less likely to scar. Scarring is inevitable if proper care is not taken during the treatment.


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All about Treating Burn Wounds


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