How to Treat a Burn

Treat It Yourself or Call for Help, Depending on the Severity

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Depending on the severity of a burn, which is based on depth and size, you might need to see a doctor or call 911. Regardless of the severity of the injury, follow these steps to immediately treat a burn:

  1. Flush the burned area with cool running water for several minutes
  2. Call 911 for a severe burn (see below to learn if your burn is severe)
  3. Apply a burn ointment or spray for pain
  4. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief if necessary
Immediate Steps to Take for a Burn
Verywell / JR Bee

Cool the Burn

Stop the burning process by running the burn under cool water for at least five minutes. Do not use ice to cool a burn as it can lead to further injury and hypothermia. Avoid spraying burns with high pressure, just let the water run over the burned area for as long as you can.

If an ambulance is coming, don't stop cooling the burn with running water until the ambulance arrives.

When to Call 911

Call 911 if there is charring (blackened skin) or blistering (bubbles on the skin) in the following areas:

  • The face
  • The genitals
  • All the way around a wrist, arm, leg or ankle
  • Covering most of a foot or hand
  • Anywhere on the body covering an area bigger than the size of the chest

Don't be afraid to call 911 if you believe this is an emergency regardless of whether the injury matches this list or not. You are always the best judge of whether or not you need help.

Using Burn Ointment

Minor burns can be treated with a topical burn ointment or spray to reduce pain. Ointments should be water-soluble.

Do not apply butter or oil to any burn. Butter or lard may feel cool because it comes out of the refrigerator, but the oils will trap heat and make the burn deeper over time.

Burn Care

Burns destroy skin and the loss of skin can lead to infection, dehydration, and hypothermia.

While the burn is healing, wear loose natural clothing like silks or light cotton. Harsher fabrics will irritate the skin even more.

Warning Signs

Make sure that a burn patient gets emergency medical help if experiencing any of the following:

  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Weakness
  • Fever or chills
  • Shivering
  • Cold sweats

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used for the pain of a mild burn (typically redness only). If stronger pain relief is needed, call a doctor or go to the emergency department.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cuttle L, Pearn J, McMillan JR, Kimble RM. A review of first aid treatments for burn injuries. Burns. 2009;35(6):768-775. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2008.10.011

  2. Lloyd ECO, Rodgers BC, Michener M, Williams MS. Outpatient burns: prevention and care. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85(1):25-32.

  3. Shrivastava P, Goel A. Pre-hospital care in burn injury. Indian J Plast Surg. 2010;43(Suppl):S15-S22. doi:10.4103/0970-0358.70720

  4. Nielson CB, Duethman NC, Howard JM, Moncure M, Wood JG. Burns: Pathophysiology of Systemic Complications and Current Management. J Burn Care Res. 2017;38(1):e469-e481. doi:10.1097/BCR.0000000000000355

  5. Schaefer TJ, Tannan SC. Thermal Burns. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2019.

Additional Reading

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.