Burns: do you know the different types & how to treat them?

With National Burn Awareness Week (6-12 May) still top of mind, as well as the knowledge that as we approach winter our children will be increasingly exposed to heating appliances and fires, we asked Sr. Catherine Rodwell from Survival CPR to break down the different types of burns and explain how they should be treated.

How are burns classified?

Superficial or first-degree burns: The outer layer or epidermis is damaged. These can range from sunburns to hot water burns. These are generally a result of quick exposure and just leaves skin red. While they are painful, there shouldn’t be any blistering. It is important to note that frequent exposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancer.

First-degree burn on woman's inner arm
Superficial or first-degree burn. Image supplied.

Partial-thickness or second-degree burns: This burn is worse than a superficial burn as the first layer of the dermis is involved. They can be caused by longer exposure to hot/boiling water or hot oil, the sun etc. There will be blisters and swelling, and skin will be mottled and very painful.

Image of a second-degree burn on elbow
Partial-thickness or second-degree burn. Image supplied.

Full-thickness or third-degree burns: Here the skin is burnt right through to the subcutaneous layers destroying fat layers, nerve endings and hair follicles. The burn site will appear white, yellow or charred. Skin looks dry and leathery. These burns generally need plastic surgery and will heal with large scars.

Third-degree burn on palm of hand
Full-thickness or third-degree burn. Image supplied.

What should you do when someone is burnt?

  • Remove the person from the hazardous area.
  • The golden rule is to cool down the burn site for at least 15 to 20 minutes under running water. Meat continues to cook even when it is removed from the heat. By running water over the area, you are stopping the burning process.
  • It doesn’t matter how big or small the burn is, it HAS to be cooled down under running water.
  • If it is a big area, stand in the shower, or use a hose pipe or bottled water to simulate a constant flow of water.
  • Burnshield® or Hydrogel® is the only safe treatment to apply to any wound after it has cooled down.
  • Use a crepe bandage to keep the Burnshield® or Hydrogel® dressing in place.
  • If using the spray-on Burnshield® or Hydrogel®, spray it onto the crepe bandage as you cover the dressing with every rotation, so that the gel is not absorbed by the bandage.
  • Re-assess the burn wound in an hour and keep the Burnshield® or Hydrogel® dressing on for 12 hours to ensure that the area stays moist.
  • Any second degree or third burn requires medical attention ASAP!

“THE GOLDEN RULE IS TO COOL DOWN THE BURN SITE FOR AT LEAST 15 TO 20 MINUTES UNDER RUNNING WATER.”

What should you never do?

  • Do not break or pop a blister.
  • Do not remove clothes that cover the burnt skin.
  • Do not apply anything but Burnshield® or Hydrogel® to the wound.
  • Do not apply ice to the burnt area.
  • Do not put the burned area in a bucket of water. The heat will disperse in the water and there won’t be any cooling down of the burn.
  • Do not use tinfoil or plastic wrap to keep Burnshield® or Hydrogel® in place. If the wound is occluded (obstructed), the burn can intensify.
  • Do not delay to seek medical attention.
  • If you do not have Burnshield®, wet a cotton pillow slip, put it over the wound followed by a dry cloth and go to the nearest medical facility.