Coping with burns
Burns can be extremely serious at their worst, and painful and distressing even when they are minor. Burns can happen both at home and in the workplace and are usually caused by carelessness, or failing to follow safety procedures. Here’s what to do if you are faced by someone needing help after a burn.
First of all, calm the patient down and reassure them. Having them panic will impede any help you are able to provide. Stop the burning process as quickly as possible. If there are still flames, smother them with a blanket to cut off the fire’s oxygen source, or roll the person up in a large cloth such as a curtain, bath-towel or rug. Remove as much clothing and jewellery as possible from around the burn area and make the patient comfortable while you assess the injury. Call for medical help if you feel at all unsure about how to treat the burn.
Cool the burnt area down by running it under cool or lukewarm water for 20 minutes. Never apply ice or any creams or greasy substances like butter. Cover the burn with cling film once it has cooled. Keep the person warm, as the shock of the injury may start to cause after-effects and the sudden cooling of the burnt area may cause hypothermia, especially in young children or older people.
Stop the pain
Give the patient paracetamol or ibuprofen to counter any pain, but make sure there are no allergies to these medications first and follow the instructions on the medicine packet. If the person has a burn on their face, keep them sitting upright as much as possible to reduce swelling. Try not to let them fall asleep while you wait for professional treatment.
When to alert the hospital
You should always call for expert medical help if the burn area is larger than the person’s hand. A burn of any size that has resulted in white or charred skin should also be treated at a hospital. If a burn is on the face or genitals, extra care must be taken, along with patients who are very young, very old or pregnant. Watch out for secondary burn symptoms, such as going into shock. Always seek medical help for someone who has been burnt who also has a medical condition such as heart or diabetes, or who has a weakened immune system. Seek medical help if someone has breathed in smoke or fumes and is showing symptoms such as severe coughing or breathing difficulties.
Electrical and chemical burns
While these types of burns don’t always look serious, they can, in fact, be very damaging indeed. Immediate medical attention should be sought at a hospital if someone receives either kind of burn. If someone has received an electric burn from a source less than 220-240 volts, turn off the electricity supply or disconnect the person from the source using a non-conducting material like a stick or wooden chair. Regarding chemical burns, try to remove clothing and accessories around the area if possible and call for help. Where possible, take a sample or container with you to hospital to allow the professionals to assess what kind of chemical has caused the burn.