As in the title: why do burn wounds benefit from cooling (beyond the first few seconds of actually lowering the temperature back to regular skin level)? Advice for burn wounds always include cooling afterwards because of some 'afterburn', but what does that mean and what are the mechanisms at play here?

As for type of burns, just assume a hot water burn. I am not a medical specialist and don't know the differences.

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    What type or category of burn wounds are you referring to specifically? Because it varies! May 16, 2016 at 17:22
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    I don't have citations to support this at hand, and no time to go find them, but as taught to me in my EMS training it's simply that cooling the burn takes longer than people realize when the burns are serious and deep. From my personal experience, I found that to be true. You could dump liters of water on a severe burn, think you've got it cooled down, and then find a few minutes later once the initial cooling of the water had vanished that their flesh was still palpably hot. Think about roasting a chunk of meat and you can see that common sense also says it's true.
    – Carey Gregory
    Jun 17, 2016 at 3:52
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    Cooling induces vasoconstriction and then prevent inflammation by lowering spread of inflammation factor. Aug 16, 2016 at 18:07

2 Answers 2


Cooling burn-injured skin has a benificial effect on the extent or depth of the wound. This cannot fully be explained by only "taking away the heat". We know this, because delayed cooling still has a beneficial effect, even if the intradermal temperature has already fully normalized.
Cooling a burn wound influences important cellular and humoral mediators involved in the inflammatory respons that develops in the burning skin. However, the mechanisms are still not fully understood.

This review gives some interesting background information.


Cooling a burn will reduce swelling and help with pain.

(I am first aid / CPR / AED certified. I am also certified to teach first aid / CPR.)

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    Can you provide some references backing up your assertion? It also might help if you specified HOW the burn is to be cooled, and what first aid steps will help rather than hinder future healing.
    – JohnP
    May 17, 2016 at 23:35
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    Welcome to Health.SE, and thank you for your answer! We hope you'll like the place and decide to stay. Do please edit and add to it, if you have time, as @JohnP suggested. May 17, 2016 at 23:49
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    Thanks for your answer. I am interested in how cooling helps though, as in why it matters for the damaged cells to be cooled down more/longer. May 18, 2016 at 1:41
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek Because thermal injury to cells is a function of two factors: temperature and time. For example, we know a very hot surface will injure tissue with just a brief touch, but a warm surface that you can touch without burning yourself can still cause burns if it's against your skin long enough. Heating pads are a good example of this, which is why they all carry warnings not to fall asleep with them. So the longer burned tissue remains hot, the deeper the heat can penetrate and cause more tissue damage.
    – Carey Gregory
    Jul 18, 2016 at 21:39

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