10 Reasons Not to Go to the ER


Minor Burns

If a burn isn’t deep, you can most likely treat it at home. © ninuns/iStockphoto
If a burn isn’t deep, you can most likely treat it at home. © ninuns/iStockphoto

Third- and fourth-degree burns (yes, there are burns worse than third-degree) are life-threatening medical emergencies because of the extensive damage not only to the layers of skin but to tissue, muscle, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, bones and nerves. Burns on the face, feet, hands, genitals, backside or on a joint are also best treated as emergencies rather than with at-home first aid or a wait-and-see attitude. Otherwise, the burn probably doesn't need emergency attention. Try urgent care or call your doctor.

Burns are evaluated based on cause, including contact burns, fire, scalding, chemical, electrical and radiation. The size and depth of the burn, location of the injury and the burn victim's age are also considered. First-degree burns, such as sunburns, cause skin to turn red, and there's usually both swelling and pain; these burns are considered minor burns, because the burn affects only the outer layer of the skin. Then there are two classifications of second-degree burns, based on how deeply the skin is damaged. Scald burns, the most common burn among kids and adults, are typically superficial partial-thickness burns, while something like splattering hot grease is more likely to cause a deep partial-thickness burn [source: Edlich et al.]. Second-degree burns that are less than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter are considered minor burns.

Minor burns can be treated at home, beginning with a cool water bath of the burned area. Apply aloe vera or an antibiotic cream to the wound and dress it with dry bandage. With care, first degree burns will heal in a week or less, and second-degree burns in two to three weeks.