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How to handle burns


In winter, we all want to be warm. Which means we can often end up handling or being near hot things. And hot things burn.


Household burns are often the most common. Cooking accidents, spilling hot liquids, making contact with heaters. In all these cases, your first friend is water. Lots and lots and lots of tepid water from the tap – cool NOT icy cold. (Never apply ice or icy-cold water to a burn.)


If the burn is not terribly serious, a continuous flow of water from the tap is the best thing to do. But you must do it for 20-30 minutes to get the full benefit. If you have Hydrogel that works equally well. Both stop the burning process.


Remove any rings or tight clothing around the burnt area, before any swelling happens. And elevate it if you can.


If needed, cover the burn area with a light, loose, non-stick dressing.


Non-serious burns may require follow up medical attention, so always best to get a doctor to look at them if you are concerned.


More serious burns require a different approach. While lots of tap water is still a great initial treatment, do not try to remove any clothing stuck to the burn. And do not break blisters or apply lotions or creams to severe burns. Keep the person calm and reassured.


Evaluate the person and the severity of the burn and if concerned dial 000 for an ambulance. Watch for signs of shock, breathing difficulties, obstruction of airways or cardiac arrest. Put on gloves and be ready to apply CPR if required.


In the case of someone’s clothing catching fire, immediately bring them to the ground, cover them with a woollen blanket and roll them around to smother the flames. Move them to a safe area away from the source of the flames. Close off the area and call the fire brigade if required on 000. Beware of smoke and toxic fumes which can overwhelm you. Do not fight a fire unless you are trained to do so.


If it’s a chemical burn, look at the container (or the Safety Data Sheet if available) to discover the name of the chemical/s and call 000 and the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.


Even mild burns can be quite distressing to the very young and very old, so remain calm and follow these procedures to help them cope. The cooling effect of water on the burn does a lot to help reduce the trauma.


The best handling for burns of course, is to not get them in the first place. So take care in winter with cooking, particularly cooking oils and liquids, other hot liquids and around heaters, particularly with young children.