Chemical Burns: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Cross section view of skin with a chemical burn

Burns can occur when a harmful chemical, such as a cleaning product or an acid, splashes onto the skin. The amount of damage to the skin depends on how strong the chemical was, how much of it was on the skin, and how long it was there. Chemical burns, even minor ones, can be very painful. A minor burn may heal within a few days. But a more serious burn may take weeks or even months to heal completely.

When the skin is damaged by a burn, it may become infected. You can help prevent infection and help your burn heal. Keep the burn clean, and change the bandages often. Taking good care of the burn as it heals may help prevent bad scars.

The treatment for most chemical burns is to remove the chemical from the skin by flushing the area with plenty of water. But some chemicals can't be removed with water. They may need to be removed from the skin in other ways by the doctor.

The doctor has checked your skin carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

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 or nurse call line 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?

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your burn, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the burn with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • Gently pat the burn dry after you wash it.
    • You may cover the burn with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Don't break blisters open. Broken blisters could get infected. If a blister breaks open by itself, blot up the liquid, and leave the skin that covered the blister. This helps protect the new skin.
  • Try not to scratch the burn. Talk to your doctor or nurse call line about what to use on the burn for itching.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain gets worse.
  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the burn.
    • Pus draining from the burn.
    • A fever.

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

  • The burn is not getting better each day.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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