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Burns - prevention, tips and cure

Many people out there may have heard of burn stories or perhaps had their own experience, but the fact remains there is much confusion about how we should deal with a burn. If we know what to do and act quickly, we can significantly reduce the severity of a burn.


Obviously, the best treatment for a burn is prevention, but of course accidents can so easily happen. If we put measures in place to reduce these risks, then surely that is a good thing - especially when you consider the statistics. According to the Children’s Burns Trust ‘30 babies and toddlers go to the hospital with a hot drink burn every day’ that equates to over 10,000 little ones a year! Here are some of the dangers around your home:

Hot drinks - In my experience working on an ambulance, if we are called to a child with a burn the most probable cause will be a cup of tea or coffee. Educate your children about risks and be super careful when you have that cuppa, ensuring it is kept out of reach.

Hair straighteners/curling irons - There has also been an increase in burns from hair straighteners. These stay hot for about 20 minutes after being unplugged, so do not leave them lying about near young children. Remember, children like to copy us so if they have watched you use them, they might be tempted to try them too.

Irons – never leave a child unattended near a hot iron. Like with the hair straighteners, they stay hot for a while after being unplugged.

Kitchen dangers - Keep saucepans at the back of the cooker where possible and pan handles to the rear to reduce the risk of inquisitive hands pulling it on top of them. Use kettles with a short flex and position to the rear of the worktop.

Fires/wood burners – Invest in a fireguard & do not leave a child unattended if a fire is lit.

Bath time – When running the bath, put the cold water in first and then top it up with hot water. Ensure you test the water temperature by using your elbow before putting your baby or toddler in.

How to treat a burn?

  • Remove them from heat source.

  • Place the burn under cool or tepid running water as soon as possible. The recommended time period is now 20 minutes – this is important to stop the burning process, improve healing and reduce the risk of scarring. Prevent Hypothermia by covering your child with a blanket, taking care not to put it near the burn.

  • Call for help (see when to go to hospital section)

  • Remove any jewellery near the burn and carefully remove clothing too – nappies in particular because they are very absorbent and can trap heat. However, if there is any clothing stuck to the burn, leave it in place and irrigate over the top of the clothing with water.

  • After cooling, cover the area using a non-stick dressing – cling film is ideal. Discard the top 2 layers and then place the cling film loosely across the area. Do not wrap around too tight or you could create a tourniquet effect as the burn area swells. You could continue to cool over the top of the cling film.

  • Consider giving pain relief, such as Calpol.

Burn don’ts

The treatment for a burn is very simple. Over the years, I have seen and heard of many strange things being applied to burns, some of which can be counterproductive as they effectively keep the heat in. So here are some burn don’ts:

  • Don’t put any lotions or fats on to the burn area

  • Don’t burst blisters

  • Don’t put ice on a burn

  • Don’t apply sticky dressings to the area

  • Don’t try and pick anything off a burn if its stuck, for example, clothing

When to go to hospital

Minor burns can be treated at home, but Children under 5 are at higher risk of infection so seek medical advice for all burns in that age group and take them to Hospital if it has blistered and/or is larger than a 50p.

Anyone affected with large or blistered burns to their face, neck, chest, hands, feet, or groin area should be assessed at hospital, as well as if they have suffered any chemical or electrical burns. If a burn appears to have turned the skin white or have charred the skin black, they will also need to go to A & E as this would indicate a full thickness burn, which is very serious. Any doubts though, best to seek advice.

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