Is a burn serious

Dr. Moneesh Bhow is Director of Emergency Services at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix. His office can be reached at (602) 839-6968. 

Question: My child accidentally burned himself on the metal of the seatbelt in the hot car and it appears the skin is starting to blister. Does this mean the burn is serious, or can I treat it at home?

Answer: During Phoenix summers, everything is hot. When certain objects – especially metal objects like seatbelt buckles – are exposed to the intense summer sun and heat they can become dangerously hot and hazardous for burns. This can be particularly concerning for parents of young children who are curious and touch everything in sight. 

Burns are common accidents in children. Estimates suggest that nearly 90,000 children under the age of 14 are treated in emergency departments each year for burn-related injuries, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. So when burns do occur it’s important to recognize when the injury is minor and can be treated at home or if it is serious and requires medical attention. 

Burns range in severity, categorized as first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. 

  • First-degree burns are the least serious and commonly include symptoms such skin redness, swelling, and minor pain or discomfort. First-degree burns can generally be treated at home by cooling the burn with room temperature or tepid water (do NOT apply ice), covering the wound with sterile bandages, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers, if necessary.
  • With second-degree burns, blistering may occur, the skin becomes red, and there is typically pain and/or swelling. Small second-degree burns can often be treated at home with the first aid measures mentioned above. However, large second-degree burns should receive medical attention. While first and second-degree burns are often minor, they still can become infected, so lookout for increased pain, redness, oozing from the wound, fever, or swelling. Seek medical care for any of these symptoms.
  • Third-degree burns are the most severe and always require immediate medical attention. Third-degree burns can appear charred black to white and dry, or may have a leathery appearance. The burn may be painless but can result in serious complications. If you suspect someone has a severe burn, dial 911 immediately. 

It’s also important to note that regardless of the degree of the burn, medical attention should be sought for burns that cover the face, hands, feet, groin, buttocks, or major joints. 

If you are unsure about the severity of a burn or don’t feel comfortable with home treatment, don’t hesitate to seek medical care.