Burns can happen in a second, and it’s important to act fast to prevent further injury and reduce the risk of scarring. Minor burns and scalds are fairly common, with hot water from pans, kettles or the bath as top of the list, and fireworks when celebrations come around.
Burns typically affect the hands, forearms and face, or the lower legs or bottom when young children get in a very hot bath. Sunburn also counts as a burn, and the following advice applies.
Take burns seriously, even if there isn’t much to see initially – it can take some time for the skin to react and deep pain to set in, but the skin has been traumatised and the process of injury continues unless it is cooled and treated.
Taking care of your own safety first, you need to remove the person from the source of heat immediately. If there are flames, extinguish these using the ‘drop and roll’ technique or cover them with a blanket. Chemical or electrical burns will require protective equipment, so dial 999 and do not approach until you have specialist advice.
Then follow these steps:
COOL – run the area under cool running water for at least 20 minutes – remove clothes and jewellery if not stuck on – avoid ice or ice-cold water
CALL - 999 or 111 if necessary – always seek medical advice for a child or baby that has been burned, as they will lose more heat than adults, and if the burn covers a large area or is blistering or deep
COVER – layer cling film over the area once cooled, to avoid infection – and elevate the area to avoid swelling
KEEP WARM – with coats or blankets, especially for children or the elderly, and especially if you are cooling a large area of skin – to avoid hypothermia
You should avoid the following to promote healing:
· Avoid a whole body shower, as this can induce hypothermia.
· Avoid pulling clothes stuck to the burn off, as this may cause more skin damage.
· Avoid delaying the cooling process – you can cool the area while calling 999 if necessary, or cool first then attend hospital – this is to reduce pain and prevent long-term scarring.
· Avoid putting household products – butter, toothpaste or cream – on the burn, as these can cause further harm.
· Avoid using ice to cool the burn, as this can deepen the burn.
· Avoid plasters or adhesive bandages on the burn, as this can cause further damage to the skin on removal.
· Avoid wrapping clingfilm – layer it instead, to allow blood flow; if clingfilm is unavailable, use a clean cotton sheet; a clear clean plastic bag can be helpful for hand injuries.
Treatment at home or with pharmacy products is generally limited only to first-degree (superficial) burns that just affect the outer layer of skin. Anything deeper than this, or which covers the size of skin surface larger than the affected person’s hand, will need medical attention.
Mild burns are damage to the skin typically caused by dry heat such as a hot iron, hot oven or a fire. Scalds are caused by a hot wet substance such as contact with hot water or steam. They are both treated in the same way and in most cases, mild burns or scalds can be treated at home, and normally heal without the need for further treatment.
For thermal burns (from a heat source), anything more than first-degree burns should be assessed in the Emergency Department. If the burn covers an area larger than the injured person’s hand, it’s blistering, white or charred, or it affects the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals, these should be immediately assessed.
Other reasons for urgent medical attention include: if the injured person has long-term medical conditions that make them more vulnerable, they are over 60 or less than 5 years old, or they are pregnant, they should seek urgent medical attention.
Any electrical or chemical burns require a 999 call, even if you can’t see an injury as this can affect the heart or cause delayed damage. You must call 999 immediately if the injured person is having difficulty breathing or responding, if they feel unwell, or they're sweaty and clammy.
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