Burns and Scalds: How to Prevent and Treat at Home

As the weather grows colder during the winter months, we’re all doing our best to get cosy and warm in our homes. This also spells a season when the risk of household burns and scalds rises. This type of injury is much more common in the winter months, as we rely on our hot water bottles, electric heaters, gas heaters or open fires.

Additionally, the risk of burns and scalds during winter is particularly higher for young children. Child safety becomes extremely important as young people are often unaware of a dangerous situation involving boiling liquid, flames, electricity or chemicals – and then when they do become aware it’s often too late.

This article is designed to equip you with an outline of the basic first aid knowledge you need to react appropriately if a burn or scalding incident occurs at home.

Do you know how to treat a sudden, painful burn?

It’s valuable for you – and the children in your household – to know the facts and action points of treating a minor or major burn or scald. By reading this resource, you are giving yourself the best chance of preventing any accidents or further injury involving hot surfaces, hot water, or open flames with the right first aid procedure. This is a great first step to securing the safety of the younger members of your family.

What causes a burn or a scald to the skin?

Burns and scalds are serious injuries that can lead to infection, scarring and – in extreme cases – even death. Burns are caused by the dry heat from flames, electricity, lightning, chemicals or radiation (like sunburn, for example). Whereas scalds are caused by moist heat from boiling liquids or steam.

This is an injury you definitely want to prevent in every way possible, so ensure areas of your house (such as kitchen, bathrooms and laundry), are always set up in “child-safe” mode. In fact, your household as a whole could benefit from a winter safety review, especially if you’re spending a lot of time with the kids at home.

How do I know if a burn is serious?

If the patient’s skin looks red and blistered, it’s possible only the outer layers of skin are affected by a burn. However, if the patient’s skin appears to be a dark red, blackened or even described as “charred”, it’s likely all layers of the skin are burnt.

The best move is to call an ambulance immediately if you are unsure.

The seriousness of a burn or scald can’t adequately be assessed based on the pain the patient is experiencing. If the injury seems superficial, consider that pain may be absent if nerve endings have been damaged. A common symptom of a severe burn is shock, especially if the damage is extensive. This is where it is in the responsibility of the carer (you) to keep the patient calm and treat the burn as best you can.

What are the first steps to treat a household burn?

  • Firstly check the patient is no longer near the cause of the burn, and that your safety is not in danger.
  • You must act quickly.
  • Your number one priority is to COOL THAT BURN.
  • Remove any clothing that is burnt or connected to the area – unless it is stuck to the skin.

The burn needs to be run directly under cool tap water (do not use icy water). You should do this for at least 20 minutes, or as long as the patient is experiencing pain. The next step is to settle them down, take a seat, and keep them calm.

Once the burn is cool and the patient calm, apply a sterile, non-adherent dressing, then lightly apply a bandage. This will keep the burn site clean. If the burnt skin is still warm to the touch, and the patient is still in pain, you should continue to pour cool tap water over the area, even once the dressing is applied.

Once you’ve followed these steps, rest the casualty comfortably, supporting the burnt limb (if applicable). Please remember that even if you are equipped with a First Aid certificate, you should aim to seek medical aid immediately through an ambulance, paramedic, or your local doctor (except for very minor burns and scalds).

What to do in extreme burn situations

If the casualty’s clothes are on fire, protect yourself by holding a blanket or rug in front of you as you approach them. Wrap the blanket or rug around the casualty to smother the flames, and lay them on the ground. If you need to use water to put out the flames, make sure you do not throw it at the patient.

If the casualty is unconscious, place him or her carefully on their SIDE, check the airway, breathing and pulse and begin CPR if necessary.

4 Mistakes to avoid when treating a burn injury:

  • Don’t use icy water, cool tap water will do
  • Don’t apply ointments, lotions or creams
  • Don’t remove clothing if stuck to burnt skin
  • Don’t throw water on someone who is on fire

Please be aware this article is not a replacement for official first aid or medical advice, but simply information and best practice on this kind of injury. You should always call a medical professional for advice if you are unsure or in a serious situation.

Find out more about the basic first aid steps you can take at home for more than 50+ different illnesses and injuries in our free A to Z Guide

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Vital First Aid is a dynamic Registered Training Organisation specialising in providing accredited practical training in all facets of first aid and pre-hospital care.

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