What are minor burns?

A minor (or first-degree) burn is one of the most common injuries. It is characterized by mild to moderate skin damage.

Types of burns

Burns can be categorized by the amount of damage they cause on the body. Damage categories include:

  • First-degree burns (minor burns) — characterized by red, unblistered skin.
  • Second-degree burns — has some blistering and thickening of the skin.
  • Third-degree burns — has a white, thick, leathered look.
  • Fourth-degree burns — looks like a third-degree burn but extends into the tendons and bones.

If left untreated, burns can lead to infections, low blood volume, breathing problems, scarring or bone and joint problems.

Causes of minor burns

There are a variety of types and causes of burns including:

  • Heat burn — caused by hot liquids, surfaces or objects.
  • Cold temperature burn — caused by extremely cold temperatures, for example, frost bite.
  • Electrical burn — caused by contact with an electrical source such as a power outlet.
  • Chemical burn — caused by contact with chemicals in liquid, solid or gas form.
  • Friction burns — can occur from contact with a rough surface such as a carpet or rope.
  • Radiation burns — radiation from x-rays or radiation therapy can cause burns.

Risk factors for minor burns

If you are exposed to any of the following risk factors, you may experience a minor burn:

  • Exposed electrical lines, stoves and fireplaces
  • Hot water heater that is set too high
  • Exposure to the sun without sunscreen
  • Storing flammables in unsafe locations

Symptoms of minor burns

Symptoms of a burn depend on the severity of the burn. Symptoms by classification include:

  • First-degree burns — typically are characterized by redness, pain and swelling. Sunburn is a common first-degree burn that typically heals without medical treatment.
  • Second-degree burns — are painful, swollen and appear red or white, may develop blisters and cause long-term scarring.
  • Third-degree burns — spread deep under the skin, typically black or white and the skin may appear leathery. If you have experienced a third-degree burn, you may have numbness or difficulty breathing.

Diagnosis of a minor burn

Your primary care doctor can diagnose the severity of your burn during a physical exam. He or she will evaluate the following:

  • Type of burn
  • Location of burn
  • Severity of burn
  • Timing of burn
  • Infection

The physician will evaluate your entire body to determine if the burn has affected any other parts of the body.

Treatment for a minor burn

Most minor burns will heal with home therapy.

After experiencing a minor burn, it should be cleaned and submerged in cool water. Apply a cool, damp cloth until the pain subsides.

Avoid using ice on the injured area because it could damage the skin.

Topical treatments such as aloe vera or petroleum jelly can be used to heal. Minor burns should be healed within a few weeks.

If you have sustained a major burn, consult with your doctor for the appropriate treatment protocol which may include:

  • Tetanus shot
  • Medications to fight infection and/or pain
  • Dressings
  • Ointments and creams
  • Fluids to prevent dehydration

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