Over one million burn injuries occur per year in the United States, but most are minor, first degree burns that can be treated by a primary care physician
. The principles of treating a burn are cooling, cleaning, appropriate dressing, and pain management. After a burn occurs the first thing that you should do is examine the area that was burned. If there is severe blistering or tissue destruction the burn is serious and likely a second or third degree burn that should be treated at a burn center as soon as possible. If the skin is reddened or has one or a couple small blisters, this is likely a first degree burn and could be treated first at home and later as an outpatient by a primary care physician or emergency room physician.
There are certain burns that always need to be seen by a physician immediately, such as burns involving the face, mouth, airway, or genitals. For a simple first degree burn on an extremity (arm or leg) the first thing to do is run the extremity under cool clean running water. The burn should then be cleaned using mild soap and cool clean running water. Burns that do not have any skin breakdown are best left without a dressing. If there is any blistering or skin breakdown, a clean dry gauze dressing should be applied to the burn. Those measures constitute sufficient burn care for a minor burn prior to seeing a physician.
The next appropriate step is to go to see a physician. Regardless of how minor you think a burn may be, it is always important to have a physician look at the burn as soon as possible to make sure there is not the potential for more serious injury
. I would recommend seeing either a primary care physician or any emergency room doctor
within 24 hours for even a minor burn to make sure no further treatment is needed.