What should I do about severe sunburn?
Health Q & A with Dr. Michael Jacobson, D.O.
Q: My 25-year-old son has an acute sunburn that is causing weeping on the top of his head and forehead. We’ve been applying aloe vera and a burn gel. I’m concerned about infection. He already has a few spots of yellow pus on the top of his head. Should we apply something else or seek medical help?
A: Your description implies a second degree burn, which usually heals on its own without much intervention. Your concern regarding infection is appropriate, especially during the first 24 hours after a blister ruptures.
To prevent infection, usually all that’s needed is to keep the area clean (and preferably dry). Current recommendations for minor (“partial-thickness burns”) are to leave them alone if the blisters are less than 6 mm in diameter. A burn specialist is recommended for:
- blisters that are larger than 6 mm in diameter
- blisters that prevent joint movement
- larger surface-area burns
- burns over areas that are more concerning for scarring (such as
on the face).
Sterile water and moist dressings (gauze) are usually recommended. Compounds containing silver have not proven to aid in healing; in fact, they may be associated with higher infection rates.
Please note: My office requires a one week turnaround for medical information. If you have an acute or emergency medical incident, please seek immediate attention from your doctor.
If you have a health question for Dr. Jacobson, CHM Medical Director, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.