Burns And Scalds First Aid: What Is The Difference?

Burns and Scalds - First Aid Steps

Table of Contents

What’s the difference between a scald and a burn?

What are burns and scald? A scald is when there is tissue damage caused by hot or boiled water. A burn is when tissue is damaged from a direct heat source like a stove, an iron, fire or even the sun. Burns can also be caused by chemicals or electricity.

Burns and scalds can have a wide range of causes. These include:

  • Having direct contact with heated objects like hair straighteners or curlers, irons, stovetops, BBQ coals or open flames    
  • Spills from hot beverages or things like kettles or pots
  • From exposed wires, old wires and faulty appliances, or cutting live cables

Having skin contact with chemicals like bleach or oven cleaner or accidental ingestion of drain cleaner and the like.  

Symptoms of burns and scalds

Burns and scalds that are superficial affect the outer layer of the skin. This causes redness and pain and occasionally blistering. A deeper burn will exhibit blotchy skin shades of red and white, along with blisters in the skin and the pain increases. More extreme burns are known as full-thickness burns. This damage goes to the layer of fat beneath the skin. They appear to be brown, white or black. They have a leathery and dry feeling when touched. A full-thickness burn can also destroy the nerve cells, and therefore the person may not feel any pain from the burn.       

What First Aid Is best for burns or scalds?

There are three important steps to follow when dealing with scales and burns.

Step 1: Remove the source of the burn

If the source of the burn is fire, roll the victim on the ground in order to snuff out the flames. If a fire blanket is available, use it to cover and suffocate the fire; if the burn is from an electrical current, start by turning off the power. When chemicals create the burning, remove any contaminated clothing and then apply cold or cool water to the affected area. If dry chemicals cause the burn, then brush off the chemicals with a rag or whatever is available to brush it off before applying cool or cold water.       

Step 2: cool the burn

With all types of burns and scalds, apply cool or cold running water to the affected skin for a minimum of 20 minutes. This with stop the burning from getting any worse. It is important to never use ice to treat a burn, only water. Remove clothing that is close to the burned area, but if anything has become stuck to the skin, then do not remove it, but you can carefully cut around it to limit the amount of clothing on the burn site.      

Step 3: cover the burn After cooling with cold running water, cover the burn with a light, non-stick dressing. Avoid using any other kind of material that has fluff. Cling wrap is a great cover for burns, particularly on the arms or the legs. Remember that raising the limb is a good way to help reduce any possible swelling.

When do I call an ambulance?

Call an ambulance (000) or go straight to an emergency care department if there are any of the following:

  • A burn is deep, and the nerves may be damaged if the person is not feeling any pain.
  • The burn is larger than 20% surface area of the skin of the burn site (arm, leg, foot etc.)      
  • Burns involve airways, the face, hand or the genitals
  • The skin has become dry and lathery from the burn
  • The burned skin has patches that have turned white, brown or black
  • The causality is struggling with their breathing in any way
  • The burn was caused by electricity or chemicals

When there is a deep burn or scald, complications can lead to scarring, blood infections, sepsis, and can create damage to bones and joints.

Avoid these things when treating a burn

  • Do not apply creams or lotions as this can seal in heat to the skin
  • Do not touch the burned skin
  • Never use ice to treat a burn
  • Don’t pop any blisters that are created by the burn
  • Do not put a child in a cold bath if they have been burned, as this can lead to shock

First aid training is highly recommended if you want to practise and build confidence in helping the managing and treating of burns and scalds  

How to prevent burns or scalds

Ways to prevent a burn or a scald in your home:

  • Keep pots and pans handles facing inward on stoves
  • Install smoke detectors and have them tested frequently
  • Keep a fire, an extinguisher, and a fire blanket in an easily accessible place
  • Always keep hot or boiling liquids out of reach of young children
  • Keep any hot water systems thermostat below 50c
  • Use any protective clothing available when dealing with chemicals
  • Be careful with electrical objects and remember to unplug them after use

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