When should a burn send you to the hospital?
You’re exposed to burn risks every day — curling your hair, making your morning cup of coffee, ironing your clothes, using portable heaters in the winter, cooking dinner. Let’s face it: At some point, you’re likely to get a burn.
Too many people choose to ignore their burn injuries or treat them with home remedies, like aloe vera or cold tea bags.
But that can make a seemingly small problem worse, depending on the severity of the burn.
This is because burns can do more than leave scars. They can also get infected and, in extreme cases, become life threatening.
So when should you go to the hospital for burn treatment?
That depends on how bad the burn is, says Kent Marcuson, M.D., medical director at the Sentara Wound Healing Center in Williamsburg. “The severity of burns can be determined by a few factors.”
Here are 4 questions to ask about a burn to determine if it deserves a trip to the hospital:
Where is the burn located?
According to Dr. Marcuson, you should definitely head to the ER if you have “any burn involving the face, eyes, ears, hands, feet, or genitals—or if your burn involves more than just superficial tissue damage.
How deep is the burn?
“Superficial burns are typically red and painful like a sunburn, and blister 24 hours after the injury,” Dr. Marcuson explains. “Deeper burns usually blister soon after the injury. And very deep burns are commonly non-painful and cause mottled discoloration of the skin that can be whitish or gray.”
If the burn is superficial, immediate medical care may not be necessary, but if the burn sounds like it’s reached deeper into the skin, head to the doctor.
What’s the size of the burn?
You should also head to the doctor “if the burn covers a large area—bigger than the palm of your hand is a good estimate,” says Dr. Marcuson. Bigger burns can also impair function, depending on their location. You don’t want to delay treatment of a large burn on your foot, if it’s preventing you from comfortably wearing shoes.
Is the burn infected?
Another way to tell if you need to get to a hospital is if the burn appears headed toward infection. Dr. Marcuson says key signs of infection are:
- Increasing pain
“This includes minor burns as well,” Dr. Marcuson adds.
When Is Do-It-Yourself Treatment OK?
A lot of people think that running the burn under cold water and keeping it coated in aloe is all the treatment they need.
“If the burn is minor, then these remedies are appropriate,” says Dr. Marcuson. “For more serious burns, the problem with home remedies is that they delay the patient from receiving proper care for the wound. The risk of infection is significantly higher.”
t consider. threatening condition called sepsis. s effort to fight the infection leads to inflammation, which could progress to organ failure.
In other words, your entire quality of life can change drastically, all because you underestimated the severity of a burn and didn’t get treatment.
Sometimes burns can limit your daily activities while they’re healing. You may have some limitations on what you can do while your burn injury is healing depending on the treatment the burn requires. For example, “some dressings stay on for multiple days and cannot get wet,” Dr. Marcuson says.
But skipping a couple of showers is worth it if it means your burn injury will heal completely and with no complications.