7 tips from Netcare 911 on how to treat burns

South Africa has an extremely high incidence of burn injuries. Follow Netcare 911's expert advice on how to treat a burn at home.

Over a million people in Africa are affected by a burn-related injury every year. According to emergency medical services provider, Netcare 911, most burns in South Africa are caused by heat sources such as hot water or fire. Children often sustain burns in the kitchen or bathroom.

“Children are naturally inquisitive and as soon as they become mobile or start walking, they begin exploring their environment. This could result in them pulling down pots or kettles filled with boiling hot water, touching hot objects such as stovetops or playing with fire, matches or candles,” says David Stanton, head of clinical leadership at Netcare 911.

Degrees of burns

According to the South African Burn Society, there are three different types of burns:

  • First degree: Red skin, no blisters. Usually heals with little or no scarring.
  • Second degree: Blisters and thickened skin. This can be a burn of either partial or full thickness of the skin, and full thickness burns may require skin grafting for the best healing.
  • Third degree: Overall thickening of the affected skin, with a white colour. This burn is all the way through the skin.

Sources of burn injuries

  • Thermal burns can come from explosions, flame, hot liquids and contact with hot materials like heated glass or coals.
  • Chemical burns are caused by strongly acidic or alkaline substances, and require special care to stop injury to the skin.
  • Electrical burns are caused by electricity, as the name implies, and need to be evaluated by a medical professional even if they look fine, as they can’t be accurately judged just by the external appearance.

ALSO SEE: 5 first aid tips for heat burns

Treating burns

  • Move away from the heat source as soon as possible when a burn happens. If your clothes have caught fire, stop, drop to the ground and roll to try to smother the flames.
  • If you or someone else have been injured by hot liquid or steam, move away from the source as soon as possible.
  • Remove any clothing that might be covering the burn as clothes can retain heat. But, don’t pull off clothing that has stuck to the skin as this may cause skin damage.
  • Treat the burn immediately with cool, but not ice-cold, water. Depending on the location, size and severity of the injury, hold the affected area under cool running water until it becomes less painful. If larger areas of skin are affected, stand under a cool shower.
  • Don’t place ice or if frozen items are placed on the burn area.
  • Don’t apply butter, egg white, toothpaste or any types of lotions to the affected areas. “These substances can be difficult to clean out later and can cause infection,” says Stanton.
  • Apply sterile dressing to the wound. This will help to relieve the pain, reduce damage to the skin and prevent infection. Take care not to break the skin and don’t attempt to peel any blisters. Make sure the wound is not covered by any fluffy, sticky or adhesive materials as this could further damage the area, and could potentially lead to infection.

When to seek medical assistance

If the burn injury is severe, causes significant pain and/or is larger than the palm of your hand, visit an emergency department or call an emergency medical services provider such as Netcare 911 on 082 911 for assistance. If the burn becomes infected, you have not had a recent tetanus vaccination, or blisters occur, you should seek medical advice from your doctor or emergency medical services provider.


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