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How to Treat a Sunburn

  • Posted on Jun 21, 2017

Now that it’s getting hotter – don’t fall for the, “Mom, I’m good,” trick and let your kids go without sunscreen. But in case your kids do get a sunburn, here’s what to do. Remember, a sunburn is still a burn, as you can see in the picture above, which shows a kid with a second degree burn caused from the sun.

Treat sunburn the same as you would any burn:

  • Apply a cool compress or soak in cool water.
  • Do NOT break any blister that forms- the skin under the blister is clean and germ free. Once the blister breaks on its own, prevent infection by carefully trimming away the dead skin (this is not painful because dead skin has no working nerves) and clean with mild soap and water 2 times per day.
  • You can apply antibiotic ointment such as Bacitracin to the raw skin twice daily for a week or two.
  • We worry about infection, infection and infection. The skin serves as a barrier to germs, so burned damaged skin is prone to infection. Signs of infection include increased pain, pus, and increased redness around the burn site.
  • A September 2010 Annals of Emergency Medicine review article found no best method for dressing a burn. In general, try to minimize pain and prevent skin from sticking to dressings by applying generous amounts of antibiotic ointment. Look for non adherent dressings in the store (e.g. Telfa™). The dressings look like big versions of the plastic covered pad in the middle of a Band aid®.
  • At first, the new skin may be lighter or darker than the surrounding skin. You will not know what the scar ultimately will look like for 6-12 months.
  • If the skin peels and becomes itchy after a few days, you can apply moisturizer and/or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to soothe the itch.
  • Treat the initial pain with oral pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Of course, prevention is easier than burn treatment. Always apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to your children, and reapply often even if it is labeled “waterproof.” Encourage your kids to wear hats and sunglasses. Clothing can protect against sunburn, but when the weather is hot, your kids may complain if you dress them in long sleeves and long pants.

-Sarah Caudle, PA-C

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