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First Aid for Burns - Precaution, Action to Take and Home Care

By Dr. Ankur Verma in Emergency & Trauma

Jan 21 , 2022 | 5 min read

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First aid for burns is the immediate care provided to a person who has sustained a burn injury to minimise the extent of the injury and promote healing.

Important Actions To Take

Here are some of the critical actions to take:

  • Remove the person from the source of the burn: If the person is on fire, help them to extinguish the flames. If a chemical causes the burn, remove any contaminated clothing and rinse the affected area with water.
  • Cool the burn with cool, running water: This helps to reduce pain and prevent further damage to the skin. Hold the affected area under cool, running water for at least 10 to 20 minutes or until the pain subsides.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile or clean, dry dressing: This helps to protect the affected area from further injury and minimise the risk of infection.
  • Administer pain relief medication if necessary: Over-the-counter pain relief medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help to reduce pain and discomfort.
  • Seek medical attention if the burn is severe: Burns that are larger than 3 inches in diameter, affect the face, hands, feet, or genitals, or are accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, or chest pain require immediate medical attention.

Classifications of Burns

A burn is a type of injury to the flesh caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, light, radiation, or friction. Most burns affect only the skin. To distinguish a minor burn from a serious burn, the first step is determining the extent of damage to body tissues. The three burn classifications to help you determine emergency care are:

First Degree (Superficial) Burn

A superficial burn, often referred to as a first-degree burn, is a tiny burn that only damages the top layer of skin and results in redness, pain, and minimal edema.

Second Degree (Partial Thickness) Burns

Partial thickness burns, commonly referred to as second-degree burns, impact both the top layer and the underlying layer of skin. They can cause pain, redness, swelling, and blisters. Healing time is usually 2–3 weeks.

For minor burns, including first-degree burns and second-degree burns limited to an area no larger than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, take the following action:

  • Watch for signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, fever, swelling, or oozing. If an infection develops, seek medical help.
  • Avoid re-injuring or tanning. If the burns are less than a year old, re-injury or tanning may cause more extensive pigmentation changes.
  • Use sunscreen on the affected area for at least a year.
  • Minor burns usually heal without further treatment. They may heal with pigment changes, meaning the healed area may be of a different colour from the surrounding skin.

Third Degree (Full Thickness) Burn 

A third-degree burn, also known as a full-thickness burn, is a severe burn that affects all skin and underlying tissue layers, causing significant tissue damage and scarring.

For major burns, call for emergency medical help. Until an emergency unit arrives, follow these steps:

  • Don't pull o burnt clothing. However, do make sure the victim is no longer in contact with smoldering materials or exposed to smoke or heat.
  • Don't immerse large severe burns in cold water. Doing so can cause a drop in body temperature (hypothermia) and deterioration of blood pressure and circulation (shock).
  • Check for signs of circulation (breathing, coughing or movement). If there is no breathing or other sign of circulation, begin resuscitation by basic life support
  • Elevate the burnt body part or parts. Raise above heart level, if possible.
  • Cover the area of the burn. Use a cool, moist, sterile bandage; clean, moist cloth; or moist towels.
  • Get an anti-tetanus shot. Burns are susceptible to tetanus. If your last shot was more than five years ago, your doctor may recommend a tetanus shot booster.

Different Types of Burns

Electrical Burns

Electrical burns are burn injuries caused by contact with an electrical current. They can range from minor burns on the skin to severe tissue damage and injury to internal organs and may require specialised medical treatment.

Acid And Chemical Burns

Acid and chemical burns are a type of burn injury caused by contact with acids, alkalis, or other corrosive substances. These burns can cause significant damage to the skin and underlying tissues and may require specialised medical treatment.

Sunburn

Sunburn is a burn injury caused by overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. It can cause redness, blistering, and pain in the affected area, increasing the risk of skin cancer over time.

Precautions For Burnt Skin

If you have burned skin, there are several precautions you can take to help promote healing and prevent further injury. Here are some essential precautions to keep in mind:

  • Avoid exposing the burnt skin to further heat or sunlight.
  • Keep the affected area clean and dry. Avoid scratching and do not rub the skin.
  • Avoid using any lotions or ointments without first consulting a healthcare professional.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water to help prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid smoking or using any nicotine products, as they can impair healing.
  • Keep the affected area elevated. This will help lessen swelling.
  • Seek medical attention, especially if the burn is serious.

Home Care After Burn

  • Cool the burn. Hold the burnt area under cool (not cold) running water for 10 or 15 minutes or until the pain subsides or else immerse the burn in cold water or cool it with cold compresses.
  • Cooling the burn reduces swelling by conducting heat away from the skin.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Don't use fluffy cotton or other material that may get lint in the wound. Avoid putting pressure on the burnt skin. Bandaging keeps air off the burn, reduces pain, and protects blistered skin.

Conclusion

It's important to remember that the specific first-aid for burns may vary depending on the type and severity of the burn. It's always best to follow proper protocols and seek medical attention when necessary.


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