How to Treat a Finger Burn and When to Get Medical Advice

Medically Reviewed By Carissa Stephens, R.N., CCRN, CPN

Burning fingers is common and can be painful. You may be able to treat mild burns at home. However, if you severely burn one or more of your fingers, get medical advice. People often burn their fingers by touching a hot stove, working near a fire, or touching steam or hot liquids by mistake. While mild burns may be treatable with pain relievers and heal in a few days, severe burns need immediate medical attention.

This article reviews how doctors categorize burns, how you can treat a minor burn at home, when to get medical advice, and what you can expect from your recovery if you get a severe burn.

How severe is my burned finger?

A person holding their finger up to a light
Photography by Jyoti Sangya/Stocksy United

Doctors classify burns into six levels, depending on the extent and severity of the burn. These include Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • First-degree burn: This involves only the superficial layer of your skin. The burned area may change in appearance, looking darker on darker skin tones or red on lighter skin tones. A first-degree burn does not develop blisters and is dry. It may take 5–10 days to heal.
  • Second-degree burn: This involves multiple skin layers.
    • If the burn affects the superficial layers of the skin, you may develop blisters. The burned area can also look wet and may blanch or change color when you apply pressure. You may experience severe pain, and it may take up to 3 weeks for the burn to heal.
    • If the burn involves the deeper layers of the skin, your skin can become discolored and may appear dry and yellow or white. You may not experience excessive pain because of a loss of sensation in the burned area. It can take between 3–8 weeks for the injury to heal.
  • Third-degree burn: This involves the full thickness of your skin. The skin may appear black, brown, or white and dry. A third-degree burn requires skin grafting, a procedure in which a doctor removes healthy skin from another part of your body and uses it to cover the area that experienced the injury. It typically takes more than 8 weeks to recover from a third-degree burn.
  • Fourth-degree burn: This burn causes charred skin, and there may be bone exposure.
  • Fifth-degree burn: The skin may look white, charred, and have bone exposure.
  • Sixth-degree burn: This involves skin loss and bone exposure.

Learn more about what first-, second-, and third-degree burns mean.

How do I treat a first-degree or minor finger burn at home?

If you have a minor first-degree burn, there are steps you can take to treat it at home. Dermatologists recommend the following to treat a first-degree burn:

  1. Immediately cool the burn for about 10 minutes or until the pain improves, using tap water or a cold compress.
  2. Apply petroleum jelly two or three times per day. Avoid using any other ointment or cream, as this may cause an infection.
  3. Cover the burn with a sterile nonstick bandage.
  4. If you notice the formation of blisters, do not pop them. Allow blisters to heal on their own.
  5. Take pain medications to reduce inflammation and discomfort.
  6. Protect the burn from sunlight. Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Learn 10 things to know about burns.

When should I get medical help for a burned finger?

If your finger burn appears to be more severe than first-degree or your symptoms do not improve with at-home treatment, get medical attention.

In addition, if you have any concerns about your health or feel unsure about what to do, contact your doctor or get medical attention right away.

How can I practice first aid on a severe finger burn?

If you or someone around you gets a severe finger burn, there are some first-aid procedures that you can follow before getting to the hospital. These include:

  1. Stop the burning process as soon as possible.
  2. Cool down the burn using lukewarm running water for about 20 minutes. Never use ice, cold packs, cold water, or any type of ointment.
  3. Remove any clothing or jewelry near the burned area.
  4. Do not remove anything stuck in the skin.
  5. Keep the person with the injury warm using blankets and layers of clothing. In some cases, the cooling down process can cause hypothermia.
  6. Cover the injury with cling film if possible. Do not wrap the injury with cling film.
  7. Treat the pain with pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and paracetamol (Tylenol).
  8. If possible, raise the injured area to reduce swelling.

What are the medical treatments for a severe finger burn?

Doctors often use Trusted Source National Institute of General Medical Sciences Governmental authority Go to source topical antibiotics and sterile bandages to cover the injury and prevent infections. In some cases, doctors may also give you extra fluids to manage your blood pressure.

In more severe cases, doctors may need to remove a layer of healthy skin from another area of your body or use artificial skin to cover the burn and allow skin regrowth in the injured area.

Injured body parts need exercise to maintain movement functions and range of motion.

What can I expect with recovery from a burned finger?

The recovery from a burned finger may vary, depending on the severity and extent of the burn.

While you may recover from a first-degree burn in less than a couple of weeks, moderate and severe burn injuries may require many weeks or months before they fully heal.

What can cause a burned finger?

Heat sources like hot liquids or surfaces and fire are not the only causes of burns. Other causes of burns may include Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • chemicals like paint thinner, strong acids, gasoline, or lye
  • steam
  • radiations from X-rays
  • electric currents
  • sunlight and UV light

Learn more about types of burn injuries.

What are some possible complications of a burned finger?

A minor finger burn can heal without complications. However, possible complications of a severe burn may include:

  • infections
  • scars left in the burned area after the injury heals
  • heat exhaustion and heatstroke
  • psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and stress
  • development of a post-traumatic stress disorder
  • shock due to the insufficient supply of oxygen to the body

Other frequently asked questions

Carissa Stephens, R.N., CCRN, C.P.N., reviewed the answers to these common questions about finger burns.

How long do finger burns last?

The recovery from a burn injury can vary from 5–10 days Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source for mild burns to multiple months for more severe injuries.

How do you stop throbbing pain from a burn?

To stop throbbing pain from a first-degree burn, you can cool down the burn after the injury and take pain medications to reduce the pain.

If the pain does not improve or you have any concerns about your health, contact your doctor.

Can I put ice on a burn?

Never put ice or iced water on a burn. Use lukewarm or cool running water.

Summary

If a finger burn is mild, some basic first-aid treatment should allow your injury to start healing itself.

If you experience a major or severe burn, get immediate medical attention. Treating severe burns can prevent the development of some potentially life threatening complications, such as infections and shock.

Contact your doctor or get medical care if you experience a moderate to severe finger burn.

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  1. Burns. (2023). https://nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/burns.aspx
  2. How to treat a first-degree, minor burn. (n.d.). https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/treat-minor-burns
  3. Overview: Burns and scalds. (2022). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/burns-and-scalds/
  4. Schaefer, T. J., et al. (2022). Burn evaluation and management. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430741/
  5. Warby, R., et al. (2022). Burn classification. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539773/

Medical Reviewer: Carissa Stephens, R.N., CCRN, CPN
Last Review Date: 2023 May 8
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