Hey Doc,

How do you know when a burn should be seen by a doctor? My hiking pal stumbled into a campfire over the weekend while camping in the High Country.
—Burned in Boone

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Burned in Boone,

It depends on the type of burn: chemical, electrical, or fire. If you’ve been burned by fire, the following will pointers will be helpful.

Burns are graded by increasing severity from first degree to third degree. The degree of burn is directly related to the depth of skin involved.
In general, burns that have one or more of the following characteristics need to be seen immediately by a medical expert:
– Loss of sensation in or around the burn area
– Involvement of the face, hands, feet, genitalia area or over joints
– Inhalation burns
– chemical and electrical burns
– burns that are greater in size than the same person’s one palm
– if the burn is white or black in color
– burns that encircle an area

For initial treatment of fire burns, pour cool water over the area for at least 10 minutes. Do not apply ice as this may cause further wound damage. If jewelry or clothing is on the affected limb then remove it promptly. Aside from vaseline and aloe being applied to a sunburn (which is a classic first degree burn), no oils or topical creams including steroids should be used on a burn as they can interrupt wound healing. Resist rupturing blisters unless you see gross puss; rather allow the blister to come apart naturally. Cover fresh burns with wet to dry dressings.

Disclaimer: Ask the Doc is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical treatment.