All of us get burned at some point in our life. Burns happen after you accidentally touch a hot stove, curling iron, hair straightener, or spill boiling water. While most burns are mild and go away without causing serious damage, some can cause permanent skin injury and scarring.
Burn injuries are one of the leading causes of accidental injuries and death worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), burns are a global public health problem causing about 180,000 fatalities every year.
Burns commonly occur at home and in the workplace. The kitchen and bathroom are the most common places for burn accidents, especially scalds.
A scald is a type of burn that damages the skin. It is caused by something wet such as hot liquid or steam. It is one of the most frequent types of burns and can be dangerous because it destroys tissues and cells. Children are more susceptible to severe burns and scalds due to their more delicate skin.
If you end up with a mild or severe burn, it is important to know what to do next. To help you decide when to seek medical attention, it is best to know the levels of burn severity.
Here is a clear breakdown of first, second, and third-degree burn symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic.
Types of Burn Level
The first-degree burn is the least serious of the three as it only involves the outer layer of skin. At this level, there may be visible redness, swelling, and pain in the burn area. Although they are not as serious as higher-degree burns, they can cause pain and leave a scar,
Seek medical attention if a first-degree burn covers parts of the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint.
This level of burn is more serious. A second-degree burn may cause red, white, or discolored skin. It can also cause swelling, mild to moderate pain, and blisters. If the burn is 10 centimetres in diameter (or smaller), you can treat it as a minor burn. However, if the burn covers a large part of the skin and major joints, treat it as a major burn. Get medical help immediately.
These are the most serious type of burns as it involves all layers of the skin and underlying fat. At this level, muscle and bones may be affected. The skin may be charred black or white.
While Burn Awareness Week is held every first week in February, we promote burn first aid throughout the year. It is always best to know what to do since anyone can suffer from burn injury at any time.
First Aid Treatment for Burns
Stop the Burning Immediately
Remove the person from the heat source as soon as possible to stop the burning process.
Put out the fire or stop the person’s contact with hot liquid, steam, electricity, or any other material. Do the “stop, drop, and roll.” It is an effective way in smothering the fire out. Also, try to remove smouldering material from the person if it is safe for you to do so.
Remove Constrictive clothing Immediately
Burns can swell quickly. Remove restrictive items from the body such as jewelry, belts, and tight clothing unless it is stuck firmly to the skin. In that case, cut away as much clothing and accessory as possible.
Then take the following steps
- Cool the burn. As quickly as possible, soak the burn in cool tap water or apply cold, wet compresses. Do this for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the pain subsides. This method helps cool the area and relieves the pain immediately after the injury.
We do not recommend using ice directly on a burn. Doing that may delay the healing process. Also, do not rub a burn.
- Use petroleum jelly two to three times daily on a first- or second-degree burn.
- If the injury is not leaking, cover the burn using a sterile gauze pad or a clean, dry cloth. But if the burn has leaks, cover it lightly with sterile gauze if available. In this situation, immediately seek medical attention. If sterile gauze is not available, cover the burns with a clean sheet or towel. Do not pop the blisters. Let them heal while you cover the area.
- Take over-the-counter pain medication if the pain becomes unbearable. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation.
- Avoid exposing the burn injury to the sun. Once it heals, protect the area from the sun by seeking shade or wearing protective clothing when going out. It also helps to apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to a healed burn. It helps prevent scarring, as the redness from a burn sometimes persists for weeks.
Things not to do in the event of a severe burn injury:
- Do not contaminate the burn with germs and bacteria from your mouth by breathing or coughing on it.
- Do not apply home remedy treatments as they can do more harm than good. It includes the application of butter, ice, spray, or cream to the burn injury.
- Do not give the person with a burn injury anything to ingest.
- Do not put a pillow under the person’s head if you think they have an airway burn because it can further constrict the airway.
Under the following circumstances, call emergency services:
- If the burns are third degree and penetrate all the layers of the skin.
- If 10% or more of the body has burns. The skin starts to look leathery or charred, with white, brown, or black patches.
- If the burn involves areas of the face, hands, feet, genitals, or involves a moving joint.
- If the victim is an infant or elderly and their burn injuries are too difficult to treat at home.
Once you reach the emergency room, they will assess the size and depth of the burn. In severe cases, skin graft surgery may be the best solution.
Burns are painful and can cause serious injury or even death. Taking steps to prevent them and knowing what to do if they occur is a critical part of burn awareness. First aid for burns helps minimise the impact of burn injuries on yourself and your loved ones.