First Aid for Burns

The Christmas chocolates have been on the shelves in Tesco since the start of September.

But before we get to ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, we have to get through Hallowe’en first.

I know lots of people love the fake blood and dressing up, but they really give me the creeps and I’m trying my hardest to get through the next week without Grace and Ethan wearing creepy costumes.

Saying that, I’m not completely against Hallowe’en – I absolutely love, love, love fireworks – so much so in fact, that watching them makes me cry!

We all know, however, how dangerous the sparklers, bonfires and fireworks can be, so now seems as good a time as any to find out what to do if our little people, or anyone else for that matter, suffers a burn.

I spoke to Vicki and Deniece from KeepaBeat NI to get the important first aid advice.

Q: What is the difference between a burn and a scald?

A: Burns and scalds are damage to the skin, usually caused by heat. 

A burn is caused by dry heat – by an iron, fire, straighteners or a grill to name a few.

Scalds are caused by something wet – hot water or steam.

Burns can be very painful, although the level of pain is not always related to how serious the burn may be.

A very serious burn may be relatively painless.

Burns can cause:

  • Red or peeling skin
  • Blisters
  • Swelling
  • White or charred skin

Q: How do I treat burns and scalds?

A: Both of these are treated in exactly the same way.

You should immediately get the person away from the heat source to stop the burning.

Next, cool the burn with cool or lukewarm running water for 20 minutes – do not use ice, iced water, or any creams or greasy substances like butter.

Remove any clothing or jewellery that is near the burnt area of skin, including babies’ nappies, but do not move anything that’s stuck to the skin.

Make sure the person keeps warm by using a blanket, for example, but take care not to rub it against the burnt area.

Cover the burn by placing a layer of cling film over it – a clean plastic bag could also be used for burns on your hand.

Use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat any pain.

If the face or eyes are burnt, sit up as much as possible, rather than lying down – this helps to reduce swelling.

If it’s an acid or a chemical burn, dial 999, carefully try to remove the chemical and any contaminated clothing, and rinse the affected area using as much clean water as possible.

Q: Should I remove my child’s clothing when they sustain a burn?

A: Remove any clothing or jewellery that’s near the burnt area of skin, including babies’ nappies, but do not move anything that’s stuck to the skin.

Q: In what circumstances should I contact emergency services when my child has sustained a burn and when is it okay for me to treat them at home?

A: Depending on how serious a burn is, it may be possible to treat it at home.

For minor burns, keep the burn clean and do not burst any blisters that form.

More serious burns require professional medical attention.

You should go to a hospital emergency department for:

All chemical and electrical burns

Large or deep burns – any burn bigger than the injured person’s hand

Burns that cause white or charred skin – of any size

Burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals that cause blisters

If someone has breathed in smoke or fumes, they should also seek medical attention.

Some symptoms may be delayed and can include:

  • coughing
  • a sore throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • facial burns

People at greater risk from the effects of burns, such as children under five-years-old and pregnant women, should also get medical attention after a burn or scald.

The size and depth of the burn will be assessed and the affected area cleaned before a dressing is applied.

In severe cases, skin graft surgery may be recommended.

Q: What should I do if my child is burned by a sparkler?

A: You should treat it as above.

Q: What steps should I take to help my child while we wait for the arrival of the emergency services after they sustain a burn?

A: Reassure them.

Make sure the burn is continued to be cooled under cool running water.

If you can no longer keep them under the water, apply a burn gel (this will keep the burn cool) and cover with sterile dressing (this includes cling film – however, do not wrap).

Administer pain relief.

DO NOT

Burst blisters

Remove clothing that has stuck

Use any butter, oil, or other home remedy.

Q: What temperature should my baby or child’s bath water be?

A: Make sure the bath water is comfortably warm, but not hot, before putting your baby in. Put cold water in the bath first, and then add the hot water.

Mix the water well to make sure there aren’t any hot spots.

This will reduce the risk of scalding your baby.

Never put your baby in the bath when the water is still running. 

Your baby’s bath should be 37C to 38C, which is around body temperature.

If you’re not using a thermometer, a quick way to check is to use your elbow rather than your hand to gauge the temperature.

The water should feel neither hot nor cold.

Q: How can I prevent my child from sustaining a burn or scald in the first place?

A: It’s important to remember that babies and young children’s skin is much thinner than adults.

Examples of things you can do to help reduce the likelihood of your child having a serious accident at home include:

keeping your child out of the kitchen whenever possible

testing the temperature of bath water using your elbow before you put your baby or toddler in the bath

keeping matches, lighters and lit candles out of young children’s sight and reach

keeping hot drinks well away from young children.

For more information, speak to your GP, out-of-hours GP or go to your nearest minor injuries unit.

In an emergency, dial 999.

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