First Aid and Home Treatment for Burns

Burn injuries result from chemical, thermal, electrical and radiation energy. Scald is a specific term used when burn injury is mainly caused by steam or hot liquid, however scald is often considered as a part of “burns”.

It is estimated that nearly 250,000 patients with burn injuries call primary healthcare professionals in UK and on an average 300 people die each year due to burn injuries.

Common sign and symptoms:

Patients with burns may experience few or all sign and symptoms indicated below;

  • Severe pain
  • Reddish skin
  • Skin with blisters
  • Weeping of watery fluid from inured part
  • Inflammation
"Minor burn injury"
Minor burn injury (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

You can help such type of patients by doing following steps;

  • Move away patient from heat/chemical source or remove the heat source in order to avoid any further injury. Do which one is safest, easiest and can be done promptly.
  • Use cool water from a tap or shower to cool the inured area for at-least 20 minutes.
  • Use soft drink or bear if water is not available.
  • Burn gel/cream (Quench cream) could also be applied if available after cooling the burned area.
  • Remove the following things carefully as they could aggravate the risk of inflammation and severity of injury; clothing, jewelry, watch, ring and etc.
  • The injured area should be properly dressed by using a piece of cling film or non-adherent dressing or wrapped loosely by sterile bandage as suggested by NIH.
  • OTC (over the counter) painkillers (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, acetaminophen) can also be used to stop pain but aspirin should be given to children only after consultation with physician.
  • Call an ambulance (1122 in Pakistan) if patient is having sever burn injury (2nd or 3rd degree burn).

Please avoid following things;

  • Breaking blisters
  • Removing peeled skin
  • Removing any part of cloth or fabric that is stuck in the injured area
  • Applying lotions, ointments and butter as this may cause infection
  • Placing babies in cold water for 20 minutes as this could cause hypothermia.

Note:

Water is not always preferred for rinsing of some chemicals. So we have to use suitable rinsing solvents as mentioned in the following table;

No Chemical Rinsing solution
01 Carbolic acid Alcohol first, then water
02 Phenol Alcohol first, then water
03 Sulfuric acid Soapy solutions
04 Hydrofluoric acid Bicarbonates first, then water
05 Metal compounds Mineral oil

Summary of things:

Following things should be on hand in order to cope a burn injury;

  • Cold running water
  • Burn gel/cream
  • Sterile bandage or piece of cling
  • OTC painkiller

References:

  1. Burns and scalds; NICE CKS, May 2013
  2. Morgan, E., Bledsoe, S., & Barker, J. (2000). Ambulatory Managements of Burns. American Family Physician. 62(9), 2015-2026.
  3. Enoch S, Roshan A, Shah M; Emergency and early management of burns and scalds. BMJ. 2009 Apr 8;338:b1037. doi: 10.1136/bmj.b1037
  4. Hettiaratchy S, Papini R; Initial management of a major burn: I–overview. BMJ. 2004 Jun 26;328(7455):1555-7.
  5. Kemp AM, Jones S, Lawson Z, et al; Patterns of burns and scalds in children. Arch Dis Child. 2014 Apr;99(4):316-21. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2013-304991.
  6. Cleland H; Thermal burns – assessment and acute management in the general practice setting. Aust Fam Physician. 2012 Jun;41(6):372-5.