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How to Treat Burns and Scalds

A burn is caused by dry heat such as fire, hot metals, direct sunlight, or friction. A scald is caused by contact with moist heat, for instance, boiling water, steam or hot oil. Not everyone is able to react in the correct manner after being burned or scalded. Some will reach for ointment, some will call for help, others will simply panic. Basically, the main aim is to cool the affected area as quickly as possible. The heat at the affected area will not disappear right away. In fact, the destruction can spread, causing more damages to the surrounding cells and tissues.

If a person’s clothes catch fire, pour on cold water quickly, to prevent it from spreading and to cool the skin. If there is no water around, lie the victim down so the flames cannot burn his face and airway. Wrap him in a non-flammable (wool or cotton) coat, blanket, rug or other thick material to put out the flames. If you are alone and your clothes catch fire, roll on the floor immediately to smother the flames.

Burns or scalds can be categorized into first-degree to third-degree. Burns or scalds can progress quickly from first to second and from second to third-degree. Hence it is essential to identify each category of burns or scalds in order to treat them correctly and minimize any further damage.

A first-degree burn is superficial and involves the outermost layer of skin or the epidermis. It is painful, looks red but heals well. Treat the affected area under running tap water, or immerse in cold water for about ten minutes until the pain subsides. If there is no water around, bloat with cold wipes. Remove any accessories, belts, shoes or tight fitting clothing before the affected area becomes swollen. Apply burn ointment or lotion and bandage the injured part if necessary.

A second-degree burn involves the whole of the outer layer of the skin or the epidermis. The skin is red, raw and blistered. The swelling and pain will be worse than that of a first-degree burn. Similarly, place the affected area under running tap water, or immerse in cold water until the pain subsides. Pat dry the affected area. Cover the burn with a non-fluffy, sterile dressing. Alternatively, you can use kitchen film. Do not apply adhesive dressings, ointments, gels, lotions, butter or fats. Remember not to prick the blisters and seek medical help quickly. If the burn or scald is at the limb, raise it above heart level to reduce swelling.

A third-degree burn involves all the skin layers, the epidermis, dermis and even the subcutaneous layer. It can actually be painless because nerve endings are damaged. It may lead to scarring later. The wounded skin may look white or waxy, or dark and charred. Lie the burn patient down, raising the hurt body part higher than the heart level. Check carefully for any other injuries, and see that the airways are unblocked. Do not remove clothing that is stuck to the affected area. It does not matter if clothes get wet. If necessary, cut cautiously around any clothing that is stuck to the skin. Protect the wound with thick sterile bandage. Do not apply any ointment and other applications. Call for the ambulance or send to the hospital for immediate treatment.

Burns and scalds can be serious in adults and even more so in children. Always give the victim plenty to drink if possible and reassure him or her while waiting for medical attention to arrive. Dehydration and shock can result if the victim is not attended to properly. Scarring is inevitable after serious burns or scalds. Modern healing technology can still not fully treat burn scars. It will take even more time to treat the emotional aspect of burn or scald victims.