Family Health Magazine - PREVENTION
Preventing and treating Burns
First aid skills make a difference
Burns are a leading cause of injury in the home. Young children and the elderly are especially at risk of being burned. Most burns in the home can be prevented. Severe burns can be life threatening. If you suspect a severe burn, get medical attention immediately.
Although burns can be caused in several ways, heat burns are most common. Too much heat close to the body results in a burn. Common heat sources include open flames, like candles or fires, and hot objects like stoves or car engines. A scald is a burn caused by hot liquid or steam. Heat burns can also be caused by friction.
Severity of a burn
Burns are classified as mild, moderate or critical. Severity depends on several factors:
- depth or ‘degree’ of the burn
- amount of body surface affected
- parts of the body burned
- and the person’s age and physical condition.
Skin has a top and an underlying layer. Under the second layer is fat. Below that, muscle. Our skin protects us from bacteria, helps control body temperature and keeps fluid in the body. Skin damaged by a burn cannot function properly, sometimes not at all.
The depth of tissue damage determines the degree of the burn. The deeper the burn, the more serious it is. There are three degrees of burns, with third-degree burns being the most serious.
First-degree burn – affecting only the top layer of the skin.
Second-degree burn - both layers of the skin are damaged.
Third-degree burn – damage has been done to the full thickness of the skin, including tissues below the skin.
Certain burns may be life threatening or cause serious, lifelong disability or scarring.
Critical burns include those:
- interfering with breathing, including burns to the face and throat and inhalation burns
- involving serious soft tissue injury or fracture
- circling the neck and/or trunk
- affecting areas where skin bends, including elbows, neck, knees, eyes, ears, hands, feet and sexual organs
- to anyone under two or over 50 years of age, who is less able to tolerate burns
- to anyone with a serious underlying medical condition including immuno-deficiency, diabetes, seizure disorders, hypertension, respiratory or mental illness.
Burn injuries often affect much more than just the burned area. In critical burns, all major systems in the body can be affected. For this reason, anyone who has more than a first-degree burn should receive medical help immediately. The extent of injury must be properly assessed. Common complications of burns include:
- shock from loss of blood and/or other body fluids, which may be aggravated by the pain of the burn
- infection, as burned skin isn’t a good barrier to bacteria
- breathing problems if the face or throat is burned, or if the person has inhaled smoke, fumes or steam
- swelling - tight clothing and jewellery may cut off circulation as the burned area enlarges.
First aid for burns
First-degree burns where the skin is not badly damaged can be treated at home.
- Cool the burn right away by immersing it in cool water. If you cannot do this, pour cool water on the area or cover it with a clean, wet cloth.
- immerse the burned area in cool water
- pour cool water on the burn
- cover the burned area with cloths soaked with cool water
- Loosen or remove anything tight on the burned area, such as jewellery and clothing. Do this as soon as you can, before the injury swells. Do not remove anything that is stuck.
- When the pain has lessened, loosely cover the burn with a clean, lint-free dressing.
- Teach children the dangers of heat from stoves, ovens, fireplaces, candles, lighters and matches. In the kitchen, use the back burners whenever possible and keep pot handles pointed away from the front of the stove. Keep in mind that many electrical appliances, including curling irons, hair dryers and irons, hold heat for a long time.
- Set water tank thermostats no higher than 54°C (130°F). At this temperature it only takes about four minutes of exposure to significantly burn skin.
- Prepare a child’s bath with cold water, and then add hot water to reach desired temperature. Finish with cold to cool the taps.
- Keep hot liquids such as coffee out of the reach of children. Temperature test all foods, especially those heated in a microwave oven. For instance, a baby bottle heated this way may be only warm to the touch while the formula inside may be scalding hot.
- Ensure clothing, especially that of small children and the elderly, is not flammable. Workers in high-risk jobs should wear flame-resistant clothing.
- Guard children and the elderly from stoves and open flames, especially when they are wearing loose clothing or nightgowns.
- Use child-protective electrical outlet covers.
- Supervise the use of stoves, fires and smoking materials. Keep matches, lighters, and all smoking materials out of the reach of children. Do not store or save oily rags.
- nstall smoke detectors and check them weekly. Change batteries every six months.
- Plan and practise a family fire evacuation route.
A good burn dressing (e.g. TELFATM) is sterile, lint-free and will not stick to the injury. If you do not have a proper dressing, use something clean and lint-free, like a linen sheet.
Precautions for first aid for burns
- Do not breathe on, cough over or touch the burned area.
- Do not cover a burn with cotton wool or other fluffy material.
- Do not break blisters.
- Do not use adhesive dressings.
- Do not remove clothing stuck to the burned area.
- Do not cool the person too much. Once the burn is cooled, take action to keep the person warm.
- Do not use butter, lotions, ointments or oily dressings on a burn.
- sunburn lotions and ointments can be used on minor sunburn
Dealing with a severe burn
If you have any doubt about the severity of the burn or if it covers a large area, get medical help immediately. In this case, cover the area with a clean dressing or use a sheet if the area is large. Secure the dressing with tape, making sure there is no tape on the burned area.
Until medical help is available, keep careful watch on your patient, keep the person comfortable and give first aid for shock.
Taking calm, correct action to help someone with a burn injury can make all the difference. If in doubt, get medical help. Remember, most burns in the home can be prevented.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [PR_FHd07]