Burn Blisters: What to Do and What Not to Do

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A burn blister is a bubble of clear fluid under the skin that forms as the body's way of protecting a burned area. Burn blisters are different from the blisters that develop as a result of repeated friction, rashes, or pinched skin. They commonly occur with second-degree burns from a heat source, chemicals, frostbite, or sunburn.

This article provides an overview of burn blisters, as well as tips for treatment and prevention.

Burn Blister Treatment

Treatment for burn blisters will vary based on the severity of the underlying burn. Basic first aid can help for mild cases, while medical care may be necessary for moderate or severe burns.

Mild burn blisters can usually be treated at home but may require medical attention if the burn is severe or becomes infected. To avoid infection and further damage to the skin, it's important not to pick at or pop burn blisters as they heal.

At Home

Blisters that occur with first-degree burns and mild second-degree burns can typically be treated with at-home care.

How to Treat a Burn Blister at Home

Verywell / Jessica Olah

To help the area heal, you can try the following steps:

  • Run the area under cool (not cold) water or use a cool compress for five to 10 minutes.
  • Wash the area gently with plain soap and water.
  • Apply a petroleum-based ointment or aloe vera.
  • Wrap loosely with a sterile gauze bandage and change once per day.
  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever for any pain or inflammation.
  • Keep the area clean.

Be sure to watch for signs of infection, which may require additional medical care.

Don't Pop or Peel

Resist the urge to pop or peel off a blister, as this can lead to infection. If the blister pops on its own, gently clean the area and cover with a dry bandage.

Medical

Moderate burns and burn blisters will require medical attention. A healthcare provider may treat this by:

  • Safely draining the fluid from a swollen and painful burn blister in a sterile manner, if necessary
  • Prescribing medication to treat any inflammation or infection
  • Providing IV (intravenous) fluids to maintain blood pressure, prevent shock, and combat dehydration
  • In severe cases, performing a skin graft by removing the burnt skin and transplanting healthy skin onto the affected area

When to See a Doctor

You should see a healthcare provider immediately for severe second-degree burns with burn blisters, and all third-degree burns. Head straight to the emergency room if you notice the following symptoms:

  • Burn blisters on an area larger than 2 inches
  • Burn blisters located on the face, hands, feet, or genitals
  • Multiple blisters on a dark red and glossy burn
  • Increased pain or swelling
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen lymph nodes

You should also seek immediate medical care if a burn blister shows signs of infection, such as:

  • White or yellow drainage or milky-white pus coming from the blister
  • Heat, pain, or swelling around the blister
  • Red streaks around the blister

Treatment Recap

Burn blisters need immediate medical attention if they develop with a severe second-degree or third-degree burn, and if they become infected. You should also head to the hospital if you have any doubt about the severity, or if the area doesn't show signs of healing after a few days.

What Not to Do

If you notice your skin has blistered after a burn, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not pop the blister, as this could lead to infection.
  • Do not place ice or ice-cold water directly on the area, as it can lower body temperature and cause further pain and damage to the skin tissue.
  • Do not apply household or fragrance-filled products like butter, oil, eggs, lotions, sprays, or creams to the blister.
  • Do not scratch the blister if it becomes itchy, since this can cause it to rupture and become more vulnerable to infection.
  • Do not apply a tight bandage that puts additional pressure on the blister.
  • Do not touch the blister without washing your hands, and keep the area clean and bandaged to avoid infection.

As tempting as it might be, do not pick, pop, or scratch at your burn blister. It's important to keep the area clean and the blister intact so the skin beneath it can heal without infection.

Prevention

Burns and burn blisters aren't always preventable, but experts recommend the following safety measures to reduce the risk of occurrence:

  • Take caution in the kitchen, especially while handling hot items or working around a fire, and never leave food on the stove unattended.
  • Lower your water heater to 120 degrees F to prevent scalding, and always elbow test the water (dunking your elbow into the water) before bathing or using, especially for babies and children.
  • Keep hot appliances, matches, and lighters locked away or in a secure location away from children or vulnerable family members.
  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing to avoid frostbite, and if your skin does get frostbitten, slowly raise body temperature using lukewarm water.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen and seek shade often if you plan to be in the sun or hot weather for an extended period of time.

Be Cautious at Home

Most burns and burn blisters happen at home or during daily activities. You can help prevent them from occurring by taking caution while in the kitchen, bathroom, and extremely hot or cold temperatures.

General Burn Treatment

Different types of burns will require different treatments.

Minor cases (like first-degree burns) can usually be treated at home. This includes remedies such as:

  • Cooling the burn with a cool damp compress
  • Gently cleansing the area with plain water and soap
  • Applying petroleum jelly or aloe vera two to three times per day
  • Covering the burn with a sterile, dry, non-stick bandage and changing it daily
  • Reducing any pain or inflammation by taking an OTC medication such as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen)
  • Keeping an eye on the area to make sure it's healing correctly without any signs of infection

Moderate to severe cases (like serious second-degree or third-degree burns) will need emergency medical attention, where a healthcare provider may treat the burn with prescription medication, IV fluids, and potentially a skin graft. In the meantime, while awaiting medical assistance, you should:

  • Raise the burnt area above heart level, if possible.
  • Apply a damp, clean, cool (not cold) cloth on the burnt area.
  • Lie down flat, raise the feet, and keep the rest of the body warm to prevent shock.
  • Make sure no clothing is stuck to the burn.

Burns on Infants or Elderly People

First-degree or very mild second-degree burns can typically heal on their own with at-home care. But if the first-degree burn covers a large area, or happens to an infant or elderly person, it's a good idea to get urgent medical care.

Summary

Burn blisters are fluid-filled bubbles that form over burned areas of skin as a layer of protection. They should never be popped, as this could increase the likelihood of an infection. Mild burn blisters can be safely treated at home with basic first aid care, but burn blisters that occur with moderate or severe burns will need immediate medical attention.

A Word From Verywell

Burns and the burn blisters that may occur with them are a pretty common household injury, but that doesn't make them any less painful or serious. Burn blisters carry a risk of infection if they're popped, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If your blister doesn't show signs of improvement in a few days or if it appears infected, you should see a healthcare provider immediately to make sure it gets treated appropriately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do burn blisters last?

    This depends on the severity of the underlying burn, if it's being treated appropriately, and whether an infection has developed. If you notice that the burn blister does not appear to be healing after a week or so, seek immediate medical attention, as this could indicate an infection.

  • Should you pop a burn blister?

    You should never try to pop a burn blister. Burn blisters are the body's way of protecting the underlying skin while it heals, so popping it can cause infection and slow down the healing process. If the blister pops on its own, don't peel off the skin, and keep the area clean and covered.

  • What are the different degrees of burns?

    There are three levels of burns. First-degree burns affect the outer layer of the skin, and don't always blister. Second-degree burns affect the outer and underlying layers of the skin, and usually blister right away. Third-degree burns affect the deepest layers of the skin and may or may not include blisters.

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