Myth Busters: Ice is the best way to relieve pain from a burn

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Picture this: You set your favorite dinner, fresh out of the oven, onto the counter to let it cool while you grab a plate and fix your drink. In the process of moving items around, you accidentally brush against the scalding hot dish, giving yourself a minor yet painful burn. Ouch! 

Is your first reaction to pluck an ice cube out of your glass?

Thankfully, the majority of first-degree burns can be treated at home. However, there are so many rumored remedies for tending to your red and stinging skin that you might be feeling overwhelmed trying to figure out which one is best. This could leave you asking: Is it okay to ice a burn? 

A first-degree, or superficial, burn is one that only disturbs the outer layer of skin, explains White-Wilson Advance Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Shawn Lee. Minor burns like this don’t typically create blisters, but they are usually red, dry and painful. It is important to properly treat them to avoid scarring or prolonged discomfort. 

“While you should work to cool a burn immediately after it occurs, never place ice on it,” warns APRN Lee. “Because ice is extremely cold, it can actually cause damage to the skin tissue and increase your risk of an infection.”

APRN Lee continues, “If you place ice on a burn, you will likely not be able to feel just how cold your skin gets. Making the skin too cold will lead to a decrease in blood flow, effectively depriving the tissue of oxygen and causing lasting harm.”

Instead, place the burn under cool tap water or use a wet, cold compress, elaborates APRN Lee. Doing this for at least 10 to 20 minutes will reduce the stinging sensation as well as help decrease the possibility of scarring or swelling. Once the pain subsides and the skin has cooled, be sure to follow these steps for a full recovery:

  • Carefully apply moisturizer such as petroleum jelly or aloe vera gel to avoid drying out the skin. This will diminish soreness and the chance of infection.
  • Cover the area with a sterile nonstick bandage or dry cloth to protect it from additional damage. 
  • Use mild soap and antibiotic cream as needed to keep the area clean. 
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to subdue any persistent aching or inflammation. 

“When in doubt, always err on the side of caution,” emphasizes APRN Lee. “Never use ice, and be sure to consult a health care professional if you are concerned. Our Immediate Care team treats these types of common injuries all the time and can work with you to help prevent infection or scarring. However, if you experience a severe burn, be sure to seek emergency medical care as soon as possible.” 

This myth is busted!

Shawn Lee, APRN provides care at White-Wilson Immediate Care in Niceville. Calming and decisive, she believes that communication, listening and explaining the rationale for treatment helps patients to be comfortable in making informed health-related decisions. Learn more about APRN Lee and her approach to patient care here.