Burns and Scalds

Burns and Scalds

Following a burn or scald (a scald is a burn with hot liquid), make sure you and the affected person are safe from further burns or danger - then cool a burnt or scalded area immediately with water for at least 20 minutes (if possible submerge in a basin of cold water).  

Remove the heat source 

  • Flames- put out flames with water, or roll the victim on the ground.
  • Chemical burns – remove clothing, dust off dry chemicals from the skin before washing the burn with lots of water.  Do not attempt to neutralise chemicals.
  • For electrical burns – low voltage source (220-240 volts, domestic electricity supply) disconnect the victim from the source of electricity before attempting first aid. If you cannot switch off the electricity remove the person using a non-conductive material such as a wooden stick or wooden chair.  DO NOT approach a person connected to a high-voltage source.
  • Burns caused by tar should be cooled with water but do not remove the tar itself. 

Treatment

  • Remove clothing from over the burn as they can retain heat. Do not pull off clothing that is stuck to the skin.  
  • Treat the burn with cool water - preferably use running water for at least 20 minutes. Do not use very cold water, ice or any objects from a freezer - this can damage the skin 
  • Remove rings, bracelets, watches etc from the affected area as these may cause tightness or constriction if any swelling occurs. 
  • Cover the burn - ideally with cling film. Cling film is sterile as long as the first few centimetres are thrown away and not used. A clear plastic bag is an alternative if no cling film is available.  Important: apply cling film in layers rather than round like a bandage, to prevent it causing pressure if the burnt area swells. 
  • If there is mild pain/redness, treat with painkillers only.
  • Do not burst blisters. It is better to leave them intact until medically assessed, to lessen the risk of infection.
  • Do not apply creams, ointments, oils, grease, etc. (The exception is for mild sunburn. A moisturiser cream may help to soothe this.)
  • Do not put on an adhesive, sticky or fluffy dressing. 

When to see Medical Help 

  • See a doctor or nurse if you are unsure about what to do after a burn. 
  • If affected areas are large, deep, very painful, numb, or black - Deep (full thickness burns) cause white or charred skin. A large burn is any burn that is larger than the size of the hand of the person affected.
  • Burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals that cause blisters.
  • If there is an electrical burn- Electrical burns may not look serious, but they can be very damaging.
  • If it is a chemical burn 
  • If you suspect smoke inhalation has occurred. The effects on the lungs from smoke inhalation may be delayed by a few hours so a person may appear OK at first. Symptoms such as sore throat, cough, wheeze, singed nasal hair, facial burns or breathlessness may suggest there may have been smoke inhalation.
  • If feeling unwell. 

You may be happy to manage small, mild (superficial) burns at home. Mild sunburn, small mild burns, or mild scalds are best left uncovered. However, you must seek medical assistance if: 

  • The burn becomes infected. Infection causes a spreading redness from the burn, which becomes more painful.
  • You are not up to date with tetanus immunisation.
  • Blisters occur, a blister means a partial-thickness burn and it may be best to see a doctor or nurse. 

More information

Burns management