Burns Management

Nicky Anderson, Nurse Practitioner, Aspiring Medical
Sunbathing image v2

Summer is here and often we see an increase in burns. These range from sunburn to BBQ burns, so here are a few tips on how to manage burns and when to seek help.

What's the first thing I should do if I get a burn?

  • Run the affected area under running tap water for 20 minutes – be it a shower, a bowl of water, or the garden hose. If no water is available, any cold liquid will do (i.e: milk/beer).
  • Children get cold very quickly, so try not to immerse them in cold water – just cool the area affected and keep the rest of the body warm. We don’t want hypothermia to set in.
  • No ice – either onto the burn directly or in the water. Very cold water reduces blood flow to the skin and can worsen the burn.
  • Set a timer. 20 minutes feels like ages. There is no added benefit for longer than 20 minutes. It is still useful to do, up to 3 hrs after the burn.
  • Remove any tight clothing, watches, rings or jewellery from the burned area, if possible, because of the risk of swelling and tightening.

Now what?

  • COVER the burn in plastic wrap (e.g. glad wrap) - lay plastic sheets over the top (not too tight). The aim is to stop the air from getting at the raw nerve endings exposed by the damage to the top layers of the skin. Its useful to know that deep burns don’t hurt as much as superficial ones.
  • RELIEVE PAIN. Take some simple pain relief, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

When to get help

  • IMMEDIATELY: Call the ambulance (111) if the person is badly injured, the burn is causing severe pain, the burn involves their eyes or face, or the burn is larger than half the person’s arm.
  • CALL for medical advice (Health Line or GP nurse) if the burn involves the face, hands, joints or genitals. As a general rule, if the size of the wound is bigger than the palm of your hand it may need a second opinion or further evaluation.
  • Lastly, if you notice symptoms of the wound becoming infected (i.e. increased pain, fever, streaking redness, etc.) you should see a physician.

Are topical ointments recommended?

  • No. Neither is butter, oil or any other creams.
  • Aloe vera has been used in the past, however clinical evidence does not support any significant benefit, but nor does it cause harm.

How can I manage the pain if I’ve been burned?

  • Most individuals with burns can take an ibuprofen and paracetamol at the recommended over-the-counter dosage to manage pain.
  • There are also some topical pain relievers that can be used, which have a light dose of numbing medication in them. Always be sure to follow the guidelines provided on the packaging of the pain-relieving medications.

 How can I reduce the scaring from my burn?

Moisturise. Moisturise. Moisturise. Use an unperfumed moisturiser such as Vaseline Intensive Care. Protecting the new skin with sunblock can help to reduce scaring.

 And remember, slip slop slap and stay in the shade!