Published: 18 Oct 2016
Giving the right first aid quickly following a burn or a scald can make an enormous difference to a person’s recovery time and the severity of their scarring, yet more than half of all children and adults with a burn injury do not receive appropriate first aid at the scene.
It is estimated that around 300 people a day are seen with a burn in A&E departments across England and Wales. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to burns and scalds, with hot drinks the most common cause of scald injury in children, followed by contact with electric cookers, hair straighteners, irons and central heating radiators.
The elderly are most often burnt by contact with central heating radiators or baths that are too hot, while hot fat, barbecues, bonfires also pose a potential burns risk to us all. Never try to speed up your barbecue with petrol or other flammable accelerants.
Contrary to popular myth, the use of toothpaste, butter, cream, eggs or ice to “soothe” burn wounds does not help burn wounds to heal. In fact, any oil-based substances, like butter or cream, can trap heat in the wound and ice may cause a frostbite injury, leading to deepening of the burn, which may require surgery and result in a scar.
You can make a real difference to a person’s chances of recovering by remembering to “Cool, Call and Cover” – these are the three steps recommended for the initial management of a burn injury.
1. Cool the burn with running cold tap water for 20 minutes and remove all clothing around the burn area and jewellery (unless it is melted or firmly struck to the wound)
Cooling the burn wound with cold water for 20 minutes immediately, or at least within three hours of injury, is the most important factor in reducing the severity of burn wounds. Cooling reduces swelling and the depth of injury, provides pain relief, cleans the wound and improves healing. This prevents deepening of the burn wound and will result in a more superficial burn that heals with less scarring.
Any jewellery surrounding the burn should be removed as this can restrict blood flow to the site of the injury. Any clothing surrounding the burn and nappies should also be removed as early as possible as they can retain heat.
2. Call for help
You can call the NHS 111 service for initial advice on treating burns. They will also be able to tell you where to go if the burn needs medical attention. You can also call your local GP. In an emergency, call 999.
3. Cover the burn with cling film or a sterile, non-fluffy dressing or cloth. Make sure the patient is kept warm
Once you have cooled the burn (step 1), apply loose strips of cling film over the wound and seek medical help as necessary. Only the burn area should be cooled and all attempts should be made to keep the injured person warm.
By remembering to Cool, Call and Cover you can be a burns hero by giving the right initial first aid to someone who has suffered a burn – even if its yourself. See NHS Choices information on treating burns and scalds.