First Aid Care for Burns: What You Need to Know
Burns are common injuries that can occur due to cooking accidents, hot liquids or steam, electrical appliances, chemical burns, or touching hot objects. Burns can be extremely painful and can range from minor to severe, depending on the depth and size of the burn and the burn site. It is crucial to know how to provide appropriate first aid care for burns to minimise damage and promote healing.
Assess the severity of the burn
Once the burning process has been stopped, healthcare workers will determine the severity of the burn. Burns are classified into three categories based on their depth:
Partial thickness (First-Degree) Burn
Partial thickness burns affect only the outermost layer of the skin, called the epidermis. The appearance is often characterised by redness of the skin, pain, and minor swelling.
Superficial thickness (Second-Degree) Burn
Superficial thickness burns typically affect both the outer and underlying layers of the skin – the epidermis and dermis. This type of burn results in redness, blistering, more severe pain, and swelling.
Full thickness (Third-Degree) Burn
This is the most severe type of burn and affects every layer of the skin, as well as the underlying tissues. The burn site may appear white or charred or has a leathery appearance.
How to provide immediate care for burns
Stop the burning process
Burns caused by hot liquids or chemicals
The first step in providing first aid care for burns is to stop the burning process. If the burn is caused by a hot liquid or a chemical, such as bleach or a corrosive, immediately remove the person from the substance and rinse the affected area with cool running water for at least 20 minutes.
Following the rinsing with water for 20 minutes make a wet, cold compress with a sterile pad (gauze) if possible, or clean cloth if not, and apply to the burn area. Wrap the burned skin loosely with a sterile bandage, if possible, suggests the National Institutes of Health. It is important for large chemical burns to take the patient to an emergency department.
Do not apply grease, oil, ice or margarine (butter) to burns.
If the burn is caused by an electrical current from an appliance, move the person away from the cause and cool the burn with running cool or lukewarm water for at least 20 minutes. Children exposed to electric burns should be taken to an emergency department.
What not to do
- Do not touch the person if he or she is still in contact with the electrical current. Unplug the appliance or turn off the main power source to stop the electrical flow to the victim first.
- If it is not immediately possible to shut off the power, stand on a dry surface—such as a rubber doormat or a pile of papers or books—and use a dry wooden object—such as a broom handle—to push the person away from the electrical source. Do not use anything wet or made of metal.
- Do not move the person unless necessary. Once the person is no longer in contact with the electrical current, try not to move him or her unless completely necessary. Check to see if the person responds. The victim may be unconscious or otherwise unresponsive to touch or when spoken to. If the person is not breathing or does not have a pulse, perform CPR and call the emergency services immediately.
- For severe burns, do not attempt to remove pieces of clothing that have stuck to the skin. However, you can cut away loose clothing near the area of the burn, especially if the clothing encircles the area and can become problematic if the area swells. Cover the burns with a dry, sterile gauze bandage (if available). Do not delay in calling the emergency service in your area or take the patient to an emergency department
- Do not attempt to cool the burn. Electrical burns can cause severe damage to the heart, and it is important to take the patient for emergency treatment as soon as possible.
Tips for caring for burns at home
For superficial burns or smaller partial thickness burns, you can provide first aid care at home. Here are the steps to follow:
Keep the burn site cool
After stopping the burning process, keep the burn cool. This will help to reduce pain, and prevent further damage. You can also apply a cold compress or a clean, damp cloth to the burn to help reduce pain and swelling.
Cover with cling wrap
After the burn has been cooled with water for a minimum of 20 minutes, cover it with cling wrap, or a clean plastic bag. This helps to prevent infection by keeping the area clean.
Avoid fiddling with blisters
If blisters have formed, do not break them as they serve as a protective barrier for the underlying skin. Breaking blisters also increases the risk of infection.
Take over-the-counter pain medication
You can give over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (if no allergies) to help relieve pain. Follow the dosage instructions and consult a medical professional if necessary.
Protect the burn
Keep the burn clean and covered with a sterile, non-stick bandage or gauze to protect it from bacteria.
If the burn is large, deep, or involves the face, hands, feet, groin, or major joints, or if it is a third-degree burn, seek immediate medical attention. Do not attempt to treat severe burns at home. Call emergency services or go to the nearest hospital for proper medical care.
For more information please contact Dr. Jan-Hendrik Lamprecht, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at Sunningdale Private Hospital, email [email protected] / tell 018 468 1590 or Dr. Z Radebe, Emergency Unit Practitioner at Howick Private Hospital, email [email protected] / tell 033 330 2456
The Lenmed Group is a world-class group of Private Hospitals that brings quality healthcare to communities across Southern Africa.
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.