First aid

Updated 14 September 2015

The doctor's way to treat a minor burn

Dr Owen Wiese explains the difference between minor and serious burns and how to treat a minor burn at home.


With one eye on your favourite soapie you get up to take the roast out of the oven. The tea towel you're using to protect your hands slips – and OUCH! – you've burnt your index finger.  

We've all had our run-ins with hot objects, and most of us know it's not necessary to visit the doctor with every minor burn. Burns are classified according to their severity. First degree burns are similar to sunburn with redness of the skin, pain, irritation, redness and even some mild swelling. Second degree burns involve blister formation. Third degree burns involve the deep layers of the skin and should definitely be treated by a doctor.

Treating a small burn involves the following steps:

1. Remove any clothing that covers the area

2. Soak the burn wound in cold water for about 5 minutes

3. Apply cooling cream like after sun or aloe gel to ease the discomfort

4. Take pain relief tablets

5. Cover the area with a bandage for a day or two.

Not all burns should be treated at home. The following should be seen by a doctor:

1. Large burns (even if they are only first degree burns)

2. Burns involving the skin over a joint

3. Burns to the face or genitals

4. Third degree burns (the skin looks white and leathery)

5. Wounds that bleed

6. Electric burns

Read more:

How to avoid burns at home

Protect children from burns

First aid for burns

Dr. Owen J. Wiese is Health24's resident doctor. After graduating from Stellenbosch University with additional qualifications in biochemistry and physiology he developed a keen interest in providing medical information through the media.


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