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First aid for burns and scalds

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Burns and scalds are skin damage from heat or hot liquids. Giving the right type of first aid quickly and calling 999 where necessary is important to limit the damage to skin, such as charring or blistering.

Basic first aid tips

No first aid kit is needed to treat burns and scalds, just common sense and the first aid knowledge to be able to use household items.

First, stop further burning or scalding. Take the injured person away from the source of heat, or safely put out flames without getting injured yourself.

Take off clothing (including babies’ nappies) and jewellery from near the area of burning or scalding, but not if the items are stuck to the skin, to prevent further skin damage.

As soon as possible after the burn or scald, and ideally within 20 minutes, cool the area of the burn using cool or lukewarm running water for 20 minutes. Do not use ice, ice water, creams, greases or butter, which can cause further damage. Butter and oils actually retain heat rather than helping to remove it. The British Red Cross says that if cool water is not available, cool juice, beer or milk may be used.

Cover the area of the burn with a layer of cling film or use a clean, clear plastic bag for hand burns.

Although the burn needs to be cooled, the injured person needs to be kept warm using blankets or extra clothing, but avoiding the area of the burn or scald.

Burns can be painful and the severity is assessed as being first second and third degree.

Treat the pain from a burn with appropriate painkillers.

Burns and scalds in children

A small child's skin scalds much more easily than an adult's, so always act fast, give appropriate first aid and call 999 or go straight to the nearest hospital A&E department.

Children under 16 should never be given aspirin.

To learn more about giving first aid, consider taking a course run by organisations like the British Red Cross or St John Ambulance.

Reviewed on November 10, 2016

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