Proper wound and burn care is critical to the healing process and essential in preventing scar formation and bacterial infections. In general, wounds are appropriate for self treatment if they do not extend beyond the dermis or deeper layer of the skin. Wounds are classified as abrasions, punctures, or lacerations and may be treated using over the counter remedies. Abrasions involve an injury to the epidermis of the skin or top layer that are caused by a rubbing or friction injury. Punctures result when a sharp object pierces the epidermal layer and lodges into the dermis or deeper skin tissue. Lacerations are caused by sharp objects that have pierced through various layers of skin.
Burns are wounds caused by thermal, electrical, chemical, or ultraviolet radiation. In general, only superficial burns are suitable for self- treatment. Patients with more severe burns should be referred for medical treatment.
There are many different non- prescription topical first aid products available for treating minor wounds such as scrapes, scratches, cuts, and burns. Proper treatment helps wounds heal faster, prevents infection and minimizes scarring. It is important to make sure you are up to date with vaccinations such as Tetanus. This vaccination can be given by a trained immunizing pharmacist or your physician and a booster should be given every 10 years.
Over-the-counter (OTC) products for wound care include antibiotic creams such as bacitracin, neomycin, and polymixin B sulfate, wound irrigation liquids for cleansing and wound antiseptics, bandages (some are even medicated with topical antibiotics), and products that help reduce scar formation . Bandages are also available in waterproof form and liquid bandages are good for hard to cover areas like the skin located on the pad of your palm between your thumb and index finger. Ouch!
OTC products available for minor burns include skin protectants, such as formulations that contain antiseptics and local anesthetic or numbing ingredients. It may also be beneficial to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the pain associated with the burn.
Covering wounds or burns with proper dressing increases healing time and decreases chances of re-injury. Covering the wound also creates a moist healing environment and reduces chance of infection. Wound dressings should be changed every 3 to 5 days unless otherwise directed. Changing dressings too frequently may remove surface skin layers that are trying to regenerate thus slowing healing.
As a rule, general care for minor wounds includes cleaning the area thoroughly with soap and warm water, then applying a topical antibiotic ointment and covering the affected area with a sterile bandage.
General care for minor burns is to hold the affected area under cool running water. This step is very important to decreasing swelling and pain. Never apply ice to a burn!!! (I did this years ago while waitressing when a pot of freshly brewed coffee fell on my foot! My manager gave me an ice bag which I applied to the burn. I managed to tear away what remaining skin I had left on my foot). Apply skin protectant or anesthetic or topical antibiotic if skin is broken. Apply a non-sticky dressing or self stick gauze loosely.
If burned skin blisters, do not break the blister. The fluid underneath a blister is formed as your body's defense mechanism to protect the delicate tissue underneath. Sometimes a health professional may pierce the blister under sterile conditions only if the swelling is causing pain by stretching the skin.
Examples of wounds that should not be self- treated are:
- Wounds that do not stop bleeding after 5 minutes of applying direct pressure
- Animal bites
- Puncture wounds
- Wounds that require stitches
- Wounds that show signs of infection
Examples of burns that should not be self-treated are:
- Burns affecting a large area of skin
- Burns involving the eyes, ears, face, hands and feet
- Burns occurring in immunocompromised patients
- Electrical or inhalation burns
- Chemical burns. Use first aid measures first like eye wash, then seek medical attention
Your pharmacist is always available to advise you on a burn or cut and if he or she thinks you should seek professional treatment. It is wise to carry a small, practical first aid kit on your person in case of cuts or burns for yourself and your children. Practice common sense safety measures. Stay healthy and safe this summer and enjoy using the grill to cook without being burned by it!
- Vanessa Andricola, PharmD