When a burn or scald occurs, the importance of rapid, appropriate first aid cannot be overemphasized. Acting quickly and effectively to treat a burn or scald will help to prevent further tissue damage. If the site of the burn isn’t cooled quickly the tissue damage can extend to deeper layers, increasing the severity of the wound and prolonging healing.
These are the steps to take in the incidence of a burn or scald:
Then as quickly as possible, run cool or lukewarm water over the site of the injury for 10 to 20 minutes. A damp piece of cloth can be placed over the burn if there is no access to running water. Never use ice or very cold water to treat a burn as this can cause further tissue damage.
Remember that during the cooling process the person or child being treated may experience a drop in body temperature (this is a particular risk if a large body area is being treated), so it’s important to keep them warm with blankets or extra clothing to prevent hypothermia.
Following the cooling period, the burn or scald can be covered using cling film to protect the injury and keep the wound clean. A thin layer should be placed over the burn, rather than wrapping the area, to avoid creating pressure as the burn swells. A plastic bag can be used to cover the burn on a hand or foot. Specialised burn dressings, such as Burnshield, are also available. Don’t apply anything with adhesive or fibres, such as a bandage or fluffy dressing, directly to the wound as they will stick to the burn and cause further damage to the tissue when removed.
Hydrogel can be used to treat superficial burns or partial thickness burns. Hydrogel absorbs and dissipates heat from the wound and this cooling sensation can provide some pain relief. Gel also keeps the wound moist which helps to promote healing. Greasy or oily products should not be used on a burn, because oil retains heat and it can’t be easily cleaned off the wound. Any blisters that form should not be burst.
Medical attention following the first aid procedure will be required for serious burns. The affected person should be taken to a hospital A&E department if the burn has:
- Injured an area bigger than the size of the person’s hand
- Caused the skin to whiten or blacken
- Caused the skin to blister on a limb, hand, foot or genitals
Medical attention is also required if the affected person is at greater risk from the effects of burns because they:
- Have breathed in smoke
- Are over 60 years of age
- Are under 5 years of age
- Are pregnant
- Have a medical condition or a weakened immune system
- Are showing signs that they are going into shock