When you’re caring for a vulnerable individual, you often discover that no matter how hard you try to protect them from injury, accidents do occasionally still happen. From trips and falls to small cuts and minor burns, it's important that you're prepared not only with a well-stocked First Aid kit to treat minor injuries and minimise pain, but also the correct skills to address those incidents.
While most minor (‘first degree’) burns will heal on their own, keeping appropriate equipment such as a burns kit on hand will help you to prevent infection, further injury, and a range of additional problems. A home First Aid kit should include sterile burns dressings, cooling gels and painkillers that you can use in the event of a minor burn or scald.
However before you administer treatment to a burn, it’s important to determine its extent and cause so that you do not attempt to treat a burn that should be addressed by a medical professional. There are three main classifications of burn severity (also known as ‘burn levels’) that you need to know about:
- First-Degree – First-degree burns are superficial burns, meaning that they only affect the outermost layer of skin. They’re represented by redness, some minor inflammation or swelling, and pain, and are followed by dry, peeling skin as they heal which usually takes 7-10 days. First-degree burns can be treated at home, but you should seek advice from a medical professional if they affect more than three inches of skin and are on the face or a major joint, such as the knee, ankle, foot, spine, shoulder, elbow or forearm.
- Second-Degree – Second-degree burns are more serious as the burn affects the tissue underneath the top layers of skin. These burns are indicated by blisters, an extremely red and sore appearance and also a wet or weeping appearance as the blisters pop open. If these burns are small, they can be treated at home by keeping the area clean and bandaging them, but if they affect a large area you must seek emergency help from a medical professional as in some extreme cases, more serious treatment such as a skin graft may be required.
- Third-Degree – Third-degree burns affect every layer of skin, making them extremely serious and meaning they require immediate emergency medical treatment. Their appearance may differ depending on the cause, but they can make the skin look waxy and white or a dark brown colour, give a raised and leathery texture, or even char it. There may be no pain from these burns due to nerve damage. Never attempt to treat a third-degree burn at home, but call an ambulance and follow their instructions.
How to treat minor burns
If the person you care for has an electrical burn or chemical burn, you should seek attention right away from a medical professional.
However, if the burn was caused by a hot liquid or surface, and you’re certain that it is minor enough for you to treat at home (as described above), remove the person from the cause of the burn and then follow these steps:
- As quickly as possible (ideally within 20 minutes), place the affected area under cool or tepid running water for at least 10 minutes to prevent the burn from worsening.
- Remove any clothing or jewellery from around the burn. If anything is sticking to the burn, do not remove it (this could worsen the injury) and seek medical advice.
- Apply a soothing antibacterial cooling burn gel which usually also includes a mild painkiller to help provide further relief, or apply a burns dressing which has been impregnated with a burns gel and will help to protect against infection. If you don’t have dressings, cover the burn with strips of cling film.
- Change the burns dressing daily, or until healing has occurred.
You should never use ice, iced water, creams or greasy substances (such as butter) to soothe a burn, or dress it using cotton wool balls. Don’t interfere with the burn or break any blisters as this could cause infection.
If you’re not satisfied that the minor burn is healing properly, the person is showing additional symptoms such as shock, or you have any concerns at all about the injury, then you should always seek medical help quickly.
We hope that you’ve found our advice on how to treat a minor burn useful. You can find our full range of medical consumables, including burns treatment products online at Care Shop, so that you can ensure your First Aid kit is always well-stocked should an accident occur.