Major Burns: Care Instructions

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Picture of a second-degree burn on the arm


Burns injure the skin and can also injure other parts of your body, such as your muscles, nerves, lungs, and eyes. Burns may also become infected easily. Pain from a burn may get worse in the first few weeks as the burn heals.

The color, texture, and feel of your skin will change as new skin and scar tissue form. You may notice that the burned area feels tight and hard while it is healing. It is important to continue to move the area as the burn heals to prevent loss of motion or loss of function in the area.

Complete healing of a burn may take from a few months to up to a year. Recovering from a burn can be a painful and trying process, but there are steps you can take to make sure that the burn heals as well as possible.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Follow your doctor's instructions for caring for your burn. You may need special bandages or a compression garment if you have a very deep burn.
  • Keep your burn clean and dry.
    • Wash the burn every day with a mild soap and water.
    • Gently pat the burn dry after you wash and rinse it.
  • Protect your burn while it is healing. Cover your burn if you are going out in the cold or the sun.
    • If the burn is on your hands or arms, wear long sleeves.
    • Wear a hat if the burn is on your face.
    • Wear shoes and socks if the burn is on your feet.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), as needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not use aspirin, because it can make bleeding in the burned area worse.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Do not scratch your burn. Talk to your doctor about what to use on your burn for itching.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Make sure that you are eating foods that have enough calories and protein to promote healing. Ask your doctor if you should take any extra vitamins or other supplements.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing and delays tissue repair. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the burn.
    • Pus draining from the burn.
    • A fever.
  • You cannot move the burned area, or the area feels numb.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.