A timely topic for November given that’s when we celebrate bonfire night, which just in case you hadn’t noticed, involves big fires and fireworks (for many days before and after too). This combination frequently results in burn injuries requiring hospital treatment, although accurate statistics on injuries specifically acquired from bonfire night are hard to find, it is suggested to run into the thousands.
However, bonfire night aside, burns are a very common injury any and every day of the year. The majority of us will have experienced skin burns at some point in our life from everyday things like boiling water, open flames or accidentally touching a hot oven shelf but many fortunately would have been very minor injuries that healed quickly with little trace.
But there are different causes and types of burns; flames, explosions, electrical, boiling water, the sun and chemicals, particularly acids, the use of which to purposefully and criminally inflict harm to others seems to have dominated the media lately. We all know that severe burns are both dangerously life threatening and significantly life-changing for survivors. Knowing basic first aid steps to take when you or someone close is scalded can make the difference between life and death and to the quality of their life after the event.
Act fast to stop or remove the source of the burning by smothering or dousing flames, getting the person to stop, drop and roll, or removing them from the area. Do not put yourself at risk of burns.
If it appears that it is an electrical burn, do not touch the person until all power is switched off and/or removed from them. If you cannot switch the power off, move any cables, power tools etc away from them with non-metallic, low conductive objects that are completely dry – things like a wooden broom. If involving high voltage electricity (such as overhead power cables), this can arc over several metres so keep your distance and get immediate help.
For an acid victim, ideally you should wear protective clothes and gloves to help. Obviously that will not always be possible, but be aware that chemicals or acids could be transferred to you and continue to cause damage.
Any clothing, jewellery or other items close to the burns area. Unless it is stuck to the skin, in which case do not remove it as it could cause further damage. This includes baby nappies.
For most burns and scalds, it is imperative to get cool or lukewarm running water on the affected area for twenty minutes as soon as possible to cool it. Never use very cold water, ice, any type of cream/ointment or grease as this can cause more damage to the skin and tissue.
Acid and chemicals should also be rinsed in the same way but be mindful that this can cause substances to splash onto yourself.
If an electrical burn is suspected, do not put water anywhere near potentially live electricity.
Cover the burns with clingfilm or clean non-fluffy material like a plastic bag to protect from infection. Cover, rather than wrap around a limb.
In severe burns, the victim is likely to suffer from shock. In combination with cooling water and the body reacting and cooling to the event, they may become hypothermic. Keep them warm by wrapping them in blankets, clothes, whatever is to hand, making sure the injured areas are not touched.
Try and keep the person sitting upright if possible, especially with upper body burns as this will help reduce swelling.
NHS advice states that a burn is serious and requires hospital treatment if: it is larger than the affected person’s hand, it is deep, any burn that causes white or charred skin or the burns cause blisters on face, arms, hands, legs, feet or genitals.
All chemical and electrical burns should be seen immediately at A&E. Those with electrical burns are likely to have received other injuries which may be internal.
If the sufferer has other injuries, is going into shock, is under 5, over 60, pregnant or has any chronic illness then they should also seek immediate medical advice.
For more information see: