Seek urgent medical attention if your burn has caused skin to appear blackened, white or blistered in appearance, or if the burn is very painful or covers an extensive area of the body.
All types of burns need immediate treatment.
If you have blisters, leave them alone - do not break them as this can increase the likelihood of infection.
Minor burns include first-degree burns (those affecting the epidermis, or top layer of the skin), second-degree burns (which affect the epidermis, but also penetrate deeper into the dermis layer) and sunburn. First-degree burns normally heal quickly with the skin peeling away after about two days to reveal new skin underneath. Second-degree burns will also heal reasonably quickly unless they cover a large area or become infected.
Minor burns such as these are characterised by:
- Red or blistered skin, with associated pain
- Extensive blistering, peeling of the skin Major burns include extensive second-degree burns and all third and fourth degree burns, which affect all three layers of skin - all such burns require immediate medical treatment. When these types of burns occur, the affected location may look white, blackened or charred. Electrical burns may appear okay on the outside although sometimes, extensive internal damage has occurred.
Symptoms of major burns may include:
- Black or charred skin, with or without pain
- White looking skin following chemical or steam burns
- Exposed fatty tissue, bone or muscles
Burns are caused by exposure to excessive heat (from the sun, hot liquids, flames, hot objects touching the skin), electricity or certain chemicals. Extreme cold can also cause burning.
Hot water in showers, baths and pots and pans is the most common cause of serious burns, particularly in young children.
Contact with fire, steam and chemicals such as pool chemicals are also common causes.
The most common and also the most preventable of all burns is sunburn. The ultra-violet rays from the sun can cause serious burns and can damage the skin in a very short time.
- Aloe vera gel and calendula ointment are soothing and healing for minor first-degree burns
- Tea tree oil may help to prevent infection, however be sure to dilute the oil to avoid stinging the inflamed area
- Taking antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin A (betacarotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E can help repair damaged body tissue and promote healthy skin, especially when taken in conjunction with the minerals zinc and selenium
- Apply cold compresses, aloe vera gel or calamine lotion to ease itchiness.
- When your skin peels or the blisters break, gently remove the dried skin and apply an antiseptic ointment or cream to the skin beneath to prevent infection.
Life Style Factors
It’s fairly self evident to say that you should avoid touching open flames or sources of heat like heaters or stoves to avoid burns. You may not realise, though, that you can get burned from prolonged exposure to other sources of heat. Young children, especially, should be watched around things like electric blankets, hot water bottles, and even hot water from the tap.
If using a hot water bottle, make sure you don’t fill it with boiling water, and be sure to wrap it in a pillowcase or other cover before giving it to your child. Be careful not to fall asleep with your electric blanket on, and be sure to monitor your child if he or she is using one.
The NSW government recommends having your hot water set to no more than 50°C to minimise the risk of burns in children – contact your hot water tank manufacturer for more information on how to do this. You can also get child resistant taps to stop your child accidentally turning on the hot water.
If you’re going out in the sun, especially in the middle of the day, be sure to wear a good 45+ sunblock
Always wear protective clothing and use sunscreen when exposed to the sun. Avoid sunbathing at the hottest time of the day (11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.). Ensure that children are adequately protected at all times, as their skin is particularly susceptible.
Install fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in your home (especially the kitchen) and have them checked at least once per year. Power points, electrical goods etc should also be regularly checked by electricians. Installing an earth leakage switch is also recommended to prevent electrical faults causing a fire. Additionally, make sure you switch off electrical appliances at the power point and unplug them after use.
A fire blanket is a valuable addition to your first aid kit.
The kitchen and bathroom are danger zones to consider. Never leave a child alone in these areas and always make sure that handles of pots and pans containing hot foods or liquids are out of their reach.
Store chemicals and cleaning products in locked cupboards in the house, out of reach of children and the visually impaired. Ensure such products are clearly labelled and carry child-resistant lids for safety.
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