Burns and Scalds
Our skin performs many actions for us and one of it’s important roles is to protect our bodies from infection. Just like wounds and cuts, burns penetrate the skin which can expose us to infection. Severe burns can also send the body into shock.
Treatment should be given as soon as possible, in order to limit damage to the skin.
Burns and scalds both cause damage to the skin through heat, and are treated in the same way.
- Burns are caused by dry heat, such as an iron or fire
- Scalds are caused by something wet, such as hot water or steam
Severity of burns
We often hear the phrase 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree burns. This term is used to describe the depth of a burn on the skin. The skin has 3 layers and we define burns according to the layer of skin affected:
- Superficial burns affect the top layer of skin (dermis)
- Partial thickness burns affect the top 2 layers of skin (the dermis and the epidermis)
- Full thickness burns affect all layers of skin down to the fat layer and nerve endings. These are the most serious type of burn. They can often look black and charred
Use the acronym SCALD to assess the severity of a burn
S – Size of the burn (A 1% burn is the size of the casualty’s palm)
C – Cause
A – Age. Younger children and older people are more at risk
L – Location – Which part of the body is affected – (face, throat, eyes, chest, genitals are the most serious)
D – Depth of the burn (A full thickness burn can often result in no pain, due to the nerve endings being burnt)
Causes of burns:
- Wet heat / steam
- Dry heat / flame
Treating Burns and Scalds
- Cool the burn with cool water for 20 minutes – this will lessen the swelling and the overall impact of the burn (if you can’t find running water, use a bottle of soft-drink or milk until you can get to a tap)
- Remove any clothing or jewellery that is near the affected area, but be careful not to tear the skin or create further damage. If this is proving difficult, leave it.
- Cover the burn with a layer of cling film. Tear pieces of cling film from the roll and place all around the burn. If it is a limb, do not wrap too tightly.
- If cling film is not available, use a burns dressing from your first aid kit. A clean plastic bag can be used if this is all you have to keep the affected area clean
- DO NOT use ice, lotions or ointments
When to seek medical assistance?
Think back to SCALD, when assessing a burn:
Size, Cause, Age, Location, Depth
- Burns larger than the palm of the casualty’s hand
- Full thickness burns that appear black and charred
- A casualty that has endured smoke inhalation from a house fire. for example (Inhaling harmful smoke can inflame your lungs and airway, causing them to swell and block oxygen)
- A burn that goes all the way around a limb (the swelling could cause restricted blood flow)
- Burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals