No, applying cold water or ice for burns is not helpful.
- Do not apply ice to a burn.
- Do not apply an ice pack to a burn.
- Do not pour ice water over a burn.
- Do not submerge a burn wound in ice water.
Instead of ice and cold water, apply cool water to the burn. Many experts recommend running cool water over a minor burn for 15 to 30 minutes. Alternatively, you could apply a cool washcloth to the burn.
Carefully pat the skin dry with a clean cloth or sterile gauze and examine it for blisters. If blisters are present, it is a second-degree burn, not a first-degree burn. Patients with second-degree burns can apply a clean, loosely-wrapped bandage, not cotton balls or rags.
Applying Ice or Cold Water to a Burn Can Be Harmful
Applying ice to a burn may cause frostbite, otherwise known as a cold burn. In fact, a 1997 study in the journal Burns found that applying ice to a burn injury resulted in tissue damage. The researchers evaluated the effect of applying tap water or an ice cube following a minor burn with a flint immersed in boiling water. They found:
|Applied lint for:||Cooling method||Result|
|3 seconds||Soak in tap water, 1 minute||Little damage|
|10 seconds||Soak in tap water, 1 minute||Moderate damage|
|10 seconds||No treatment||Moderate damage|
|10 seconds||Apply ice cube, 10 minutes||Most severe damage|
The researchers concluded that, based on their experiment, excessive cooling of the burn for a prolonged period may damage the skin further. This stands in contrast to the first instinct of a lot of people to cool the burn as quickly as possible. But in fact, a more moderate approach of applying cool running water over the burn wound can be more effective.
Seek Medical Attention for Serious Burns
If you suffered a second-degree burn or worse, seek medical care. Third- and fourth-degree burns require emergency medical care.