Though an oft-forgotten type of injury, burns are incredibly common. Over-exposure to the sun, touching hot surfaces, mishandling flames and chemicals, and friction against the skin cause thousands of burns every day.

While always painful, not all burns are medical emergencies. Before calling the doctor, use this guide to burn types and severities to know when to use the first aid kit, when to head to a walk in clinic or urgent care, and when to dial 911:

Burns by Severity

First Degree Burns are considered the least severe type of burn. First degree burns lead to reddening of the top, outermost layer of skin, and cause mild pain. Sunburns are one type of first degree burn. These burns can usually be treated at home using ice packs, skin care products like aloe vera, and over-the-counter pain medications.

Second Degree Burns are considered more serious than first degree burns. These burns go through the epidermis, or outermost layer of skin, to reach the inner dermis. These burns cause swelling, redness, blisters, and moderate to severe pain. This kind of burn warrants a doctor’s appointment or a trip to an urgent care clinic. A doctor will prescribe antibiotic ointment to prevent infections, and recommend pain management techniques. 

Third Degree Burns are the most serious type of burn. Though often painful, some third degree burns penetrate so deeply that they numb the tissue. Third degree burns result in blackened, charred skin. Healing these burns requires emergency care and extended hospital treatments, which sometimes involve a skin graft. As the skin heals, aggressive pain management techniques are often necessary. 

Do I Need a Doctor to Treat My Burn?
While serious burns obviously need immediate medical treatment, some types of burns and burn pain can leave patients unsure of how to proceed. Generally, contact a doctor or head to an urgent care clinic if the burn is:

  • Larger than a quarter
  • Penetrates deep within the skin
  • Does not cause pain even when it should
  • Involves the head, hands, airways, or genitals
  • Is causing the patient to go into shock
  • Starts to blister immediately after the burn occurs

If you’re still unsure, consider visiting urgent care to be safe. According to a recent study, 44% to 65% of all ER episodes could have been treated at urgent care clinics. If the wound isn’t serious enough for the emergency room but is still causing pain, urgent care might be a great choice.

Stay informed about burns to know when to treat them at home, and when to seek professional medical help. Quick action can prevent burns from worsening, causing infections, and can reduce patient pain for a more comfortable and speedy recovery.