When to Get Medical Attention for a Burn

Burn injuries are the most painful and disfiguring injuries, faced by an estimated 11 million injury victims annually, worldwide. Approximately 180,000 of those injuries are fatal. Burns occur due to indirect or direct contact with flames or heat, through electrical current, or contact with caustic chemicals. When a person sustains a very serious burn in a car accident, a house fire, or at work, they’re often transported to an ER for emergency treatment and then later moved to a burn center for care. Burns can unfortunately be caused due to another party’s negligence. A Las Vegas burn injury attorney can help victims recover compensation for their resulting injuries and medical bills.

Some burns may seem less urgent or not serious enough for immediate emergency care. Burns can be minor painful injuries or emergency medical situations, so how does a burn victim know when they need to seek medical care for a burn, or when to wait it out?

Understanding Burn Classification

Medical professionals classify burns by degree according to the depth of the skin layer penetrated by the injury. Burns fall into the following three levels:

  • First-degree burns present symptoms of pain, redness, and swelling and only affect the top layer of the skin
  • Second-degree burns (partial thickness burns) may blister as well as cause pain, swelling, and redness. Second-degree burns damage the underlying layer of skin as well as the surface layer
  • Third-degree burns (full-thickness burns) impact all layers of the skin including the deepest layer and sometimes the layer of fat below. The surface of the skin may be blackened, charred, or whitened. These burns could be painful or the burn victim may feel numb in the deeply burned areas where the damage impacts nerve endings

Burns are rarely precise, so many victims of serious burn injuries suffer from burns of multiple levels simultaneously in one or more regions of the body.

How Can I Tell If I Need Medical Attention for a Burn?

Burn injuries are widely understood as excruciatingly painful, but it’s important to note that the level of pain a burn victim feels may not be the best indicator of burn severity since the deepest burns may cause numbness. Minor first-degree burns may require a topical layer of burn ointment and should heal within a few weeks, but second-degree burns require serious medical treatment to avoid infection and minimize scarring, and third-degree burns are life-threatening.

Any burn could require treatment, so it’s always a good idea to see a doctor if you’re uncertain of the severity of your burns. If you’re unsure whether or not you require emergency medical treatment, the following guidelines can help determine when you should go to a hospital right away or request an ambulance:

  • If the burned area is larger than 3 inches in diameter and it’s on the face, hands, feet, groin, or over a joint
  • If you were burned by a chemical or electric shock
  • If the pain increases over time
  • If the skin breaks, peels, or oozes fluid or pus
  • If the burned area has a bad smell
  • The area is severely blistered
  • If any skin is charred or burned away
  • If you exhibit signs of shock like weakness, paleness, reduced alertness, clamminess, or blue-tinged lips

Any of the above symptoms require emergency medical treatment and a complete medical evaluation of the burns and the respiratory system. Burn victims may also suffer damage to the throat and lungs due to exposure to smoke and heat.

If the skin isn’t broken, treat a minor burn with cool running water and apply a topical burn ointment or aloe to help with healing. Serious burns require emergency treatment. If you aren’t certain of the severity of your burns or those suffered by a loved one, seek emergency medical treatment by calling 911 or seeking emergency transportation to a hospital.