MainStreet Family Care has you covered with everything you need to know about minor burns and sunburns. Read on for all the details including causes, prevention, how to treat at home, and when to seek medical treatment.

There are four types of burns you may experience:

  • Radiation
  • Thermal
  • Electrical
  • Chemical

Before we look at each type of burn, let’s talk about the classification of injury each type can cause.

Classification of Burns

The burn classification system uses four degrees based on how much damage the burn causes to the skin or underlying structures.

First-Degree Burns

The least severe burn is a first-degree burn, also known as a superficial burn, because it only affects the top layer of skin. Characteristics include:

  • Dry skin (No blisters or drainage)
  • Mild pain
  • Redness

Most heal within a few days and may not need medical attention. A mild sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns, also known as partial-thickness burns, affect the top and part of the lower layer of skin. Characteristics include:

  • Blisters
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling

Second-degree burns take longer to heal and often require medical attention. Severe sunburns and some chemical and thermal burns are examples of second-degree burns. You may need a tetanus shot and prescription oral or topical medications.

Third-Degree Burns

When a burn affects the upper and lower layers of skin and some underlying tissue, it is a full-thickness or third-degree burn. The burn may appear white or blackened. If nerve endings are injured, it could be painful or possibly numb.

Fourth-Degree Burns

Fourth-degree burns are the most severe injuries. These burns damage the upper and lower layers of skin, underlying tissue, muscle, and sometimes bone. The skin may have a leathered or waxy appearance and is usually numb initially because of nerve damage.

Third- and fourth-degree burns require medical attention, have a longer recovery time, and often require skin grafts.

Now, let’s discuss the types of burns you may experience, their causes, prevention, and treatment.

Radiation Burns and Sunburn

Radiation burns may be caused by X-rays or radiation therapy to treat cancer, but the most common cause is ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun in the form of sunburn. Minor symptoms include:

  • Mild pain
  • Peeling skin
  • Redness

Severe symptoms include:

  • Blisters
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting

Preventing Sunburn

Some sun exposure is healthy for us since it is an excellent source of Vitamin D. However, over-exposure can lead to short-term pain and even long-term complications like:

  • Eye damage, which can lead to cataracts
  • Premature skin aging
  • Skin cancer

To prevent sunburns and long-term complications, we recommend you:

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily; some lotions and moisturizers now include sunscreen.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Limit sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm when the UV rays are usually the strongest.
  • Wear a hat outside, especially if you have thin hair or are balding.
  • Wear lightweight, protective clothing to cover your arms and legs for sun protection.
  • Wear sunglasses that filter UV rays to protect your eyes year-round.

Some medications can increase your sensitivity to sun exposure. Check the warning labels of your medications or consult your prescribing provider for clarification.

If you have a history of multiple or severe sunburns, have your healthcare provider perform skin cancer checks at your annual physical. MainStreet Family Care offers Primary Care services seven days a week with extended hours for your convenience.

Treating Sunburns

Most sunburns are first-degree burns and can be treated at home. If you sunburn your skin, we recommend you:

  • Apply lotion with aloe vera or an antibiotic cream to burned skin to help cool the burn.
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible while the burn heals.
  • When going outside, cover the burned area with loose-fitting clothes to prevent further burning. Tight clothing may irritate the skin.
  • Drink extra water to stay hydrated as you heal.
  • To relieve burned skin, take a cool bath or shower with a little baking soda.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen.
  • Avoid peeling any flaky skin, as this can tear away healthy skin and increase your risk for infection.

Most minor sunburns heal in a few days with home remedies. You may need medical attention if:

  • You are not feeling better after three or four days,
  • You develop blisters, chills, dehydration, fever, nausea or vomiting, or
  • The sunburned skin looks infected with red streaking.

MainStreet Family Care urgent care services are here to help if you need to feel better fast!

Thermal Burns

A thermal burn occurs when your skin touches something hot, such as:

  • Fire or flames
  • Hot surfaces such as radiators
  • Scalds from hot liquids or hot foods
  • Steam

Signs of a thermal burn include:

  • Blisters
  • Pain
  • Red, white, or blackened skin
  • Swelling

Preventing Thermal Burns

Our helpful tips to prevent thermal burns include:

  • Always eat hot foods and drink hot liquids on a balanced surface to prevent spilling on yourself.
  • Keep fresh batteries in home fire alarms.
  • Set your water heater to a maximum temperature of 120° F.
  • Use potholders when cooking.

Treating Thermal Burns

You can often treat minor thermal burns at home. We recommend you:

  • Run the burned area under cool running water for 10 minutes or place a cool compress on it for 30 minutes.
  • Apply aloe vera, petroleum jelly, or topical antibiotic cream to the affected area. Avoid applying ice, butter, grease, or rubbing alcohol, as these can increase skin damage and cause infection.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication.
  • Cover the burn with a loose gauze bandage to keep it clean.
  • Avoid popping blisters, as this can increase the risk of infection.

You should seek medical attention if the burn has signs of infection, like red streaking, drainage, or increased swelling.

If you have a thermal burn on your face, feet, hands, joint, around a limb or chest, or covering 10 percent or more of your body, please visit your closest emergency room.

Electrical Burns

Causes of electrical burns include:

  • Exposed power lines
  • Lightning strikes
  • Stun guns

Signs of an electrical burn may include:

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Pain
  • Red, white, or blackened skin
  • Very fast or very slow heartbeat
  • Weakness

Preventing Electrical Burns

Our tips for preventing electrical burns include:

  • Avoid driving over or touching down power lines.
  • Take cover in lightning storms in a safe building away from windows.
  • Use caution if you use a stun gun and follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines.

Treating Electrical Burns

Electrical burns are always serious and require emergency medical attention. During an electrical burn, electricity enters the body at one site, such as the foot, and exits the body at another site, such as the hand. Even if the external burn looks minor, the electricity traveling through the body can cause significant injury to internal organs. If you experience or witness an electrical burn, we recommend you:

  • Turn off the electrical source if you are able.
  • Do not touch the person while the electrical source is still active because the electricity may travel through them to you.
  • Remove clothing and jewelry from burned skin sites because they may continue to conduct heat.
  • Cover the burned skin with a clean sheet or cloth.
  • Call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Chemical Burns

Exposure to harsh chemicals can cause a chemical burn. Some common examples include:

  • Battery acids
  • Bleach
  • Common household cleaners
  • Pool chemicals

Symptoms of a chemical burn may include:

  • Blisters
  • Pain or numbness
  • Red, white, or blackened skin
  • Swelling

Preventing Chemical Burns

Our recommendations for preventing chemical burns include:

  • Never mix chemicals, as this may cause an explosive chemical reaction.
  • Wear gloves with household cleaners and pool chemicals to protect your skin.
  • Consider wearing goggles to protect your eyes when working with pool chemicals that may splash into your eyes.

Treating Chemical Burns

Minor chemical burns can be treated at home. We recommend you:

  • Run the burned area under cool running water to rinse away the chemical.
  • Run contaminated clothing or jewelry under cool water to remove chemicals, and then remove these items.
  • Wrap the burned area with a loose gauze dressing to prevent dirt and bacteria from causing infection.

You may need medical treatment for chemical burns if you experience:

  • Blisters
  • Extreme pain
  • Fever
  • Signs of infection, such as increased swelling or red streaking

Turn to MainStreet Family Care

Battling a burn that won’t heal? MainStreet Family Care urgent care services can help you heal and feel better fast!

Register online to visit one of our clinics. You can wait from home or in your car until we’re ready to see you. We’ll text you when it’s time to head to the clinic.

We also accept walk-ins! However, please be aware that walk-ins join the same queue as those who register online and may experience longer in-clinic wait times.