How Do You Know When a Burn Is Bad?

When you get burned or scalded, one of your first thoughts might be, “How bad is my burn?” It’s important to know whether you need medical attention or if you can treat the burn safely and effectively at home. According to the Cleveland Clinic, nearly 500,000 people seek medical care for accidental burns each year.

In general, sunburns that are blistering or burns that are larger than the size of your palm need urgent medical attention. Also, if you notice an increase in pain, swelling, redness or if there is a foul smell or liquid coming from the wound, the burn is infected and needs urgent medical care to prevent further tissue damage or worsening symptoms.

How bad is my burn?

Minor burns typically heal on their own and without medical treatment in about 10 days. These include burns that cause redness and swelling but do not cause open wounds or blistering. More severe burns, however, require treatment to prevent infection, shock or even death. Knowing what to look for can help you prevent serious complications and help you heal faster. Here are a few signs that you need urgent medical care:

  • Fluid-filled blisters Do not pop, break or aspirate burn-related blisters, as this can make the burn injury worse, damage skin that is healing under the blister and increase your risk of infection. Seek urgent medical care if your burn and burn blisters cover a large area of the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, face or a joint—especially if they are showing signs of infection.
  • Increased pain, redness or swelling Sometimes a burn can start off looking minor but worsen over the next day or two. Get urgent medical care if you experience worsening pain, redness or swelling in and around the burn area, as the burn is likely infected.
  • Charred skin that is white, brown or black Nerve and blood vessel damage often leave a burn looking pale in color, blackened or charred. Severe burns may actually cause less pain than a mild or moderate burn because the nerve endings have been destroyed. Seek urgent medical care if you sustain a severe burn injury that causes your skin to become leathery and turn white, brown or black.
  • Foul smell or oozing liquid Moderate to severe burns with open wounds have a high risk of infection. If you begin to notice a foul smell or liquid oozing or seeping from your wound, you have an infection. Go directly to your nearest urgent care or emergency room for an immediate evaluation and antibiotics. If left untreated, burn-related infections can lead to toxic shock syndrome or blood poisoning (sepsis).

For expert medical care for a burn, visit Coastal Urgent Care of Thibodaux.  We are available 7 days a week from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.