Treatment for Burns

Treatment for Burns

You’re in the kitchen, boiling a pot of water. Or maybe you’re sunbathing while the sun is high in the sky. Or maybe you’re handling strong chemicals, like gasoline or strong acid. The risk of burns and burn injury are everywhere, and you would do well to be aware of the types of burns and how to treat them effectively.

Scalds and skin burns

Burns are injuries to the skin or bodily tissues caused by heat, or exposure to strong chemicals, radioactivity, electricity, or friction(1).

There are different kinds of burns depending on how deep the skin damage is and they include the following(2).

1st degree burns - These are minor burn injuries that affect only the epidermis, or the outermost layer of the skin. Symptoms include pain, and the skin turning red.

2nd degree burns - These are skin burns that affect both the epidermis and dermis, or the upper and secondary layer of the skin. Symptoms include blisters and stronger pain. A 2nd degree skin burn may result in scarring.

3rd degree burns - These are burn injuries where damage has reached the fat layer underneath the skin. Symptoms include burned areas looking black, brown, or white, and leathery-looking skin. Affected areas may suffer nerve damage.

Severe burns can cause shock and death. Burns may also lead to infections due to the injury to the skin(3).

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First aid and treatment

What do we do when we get a burn injury? In the event of a burn, the first step is to get away from the heat source(4).

The skin burn should be cooled down using cool or lukewarm running water for around 20 minutes. It is not advisable to use ice, iced water, or greasy substances.

Items that might stick to the burnt area of skin must be removed, such as pieces of clothing. If the item is already stuck to the skin, do not attempt to remove them.

The skin burn should be covered. One way of covering it is by using plastic cling wrap, or even a plastic bag.

In the event of an acid or chemical burn, try to wash away the chemical by rinsing the area with clean water.

Seek medical aid when:

  • burns are from a chemical or electrical source
  • burns are larger than the size of your hand
  • white or charred skin is visible
  • the burn causes blisters, and is on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs, or genitals

Minor burns may be treated at home by applying aloe gel or ointment to the affected area a few times a day. 

Pain relievers may be taken to manage the pain. The affected area should be kept clean and protected with sterile gauze pads or bandages(5).

mother and kid
How do I protect my kids from burns?

Learning about fire safety starts at home, with parents educating their children about the dangers of fire and how to avoid them. A study conducted in 2016 showed that only 1 in 3 parents consistently taught their kids about fire safety. In addition, only 11% of parents said that schools frequently taught their children about fire safety(6).

Managing what your children come in contact with is also important. Nearly 75% of burns in young kids are caused by contact with liquid, hot tap water, or steam. 20% are caused by touching hot objects, like a hot clothes iron or hair appliances that are switched on(7).

Here are a few more tips to avoid a possible burn injury(8):

  • Keep in mind that the risk of a burn injury goes up when children are in a hurry, are not feeling well, or are distracted.
  • Check the temperature of bath water before your child steps in.
  • Supervise your children when they are in the kitchen, especially when cooking is taking place.
  • Install guards for the oven and stove.
  • Keep hot drinks away from the edge of tables, where your children might be able to grab them.
  • Use non-slip mats in the kitchen and bathroom to avoid accidental contact with hot objects.
  1. Burns (March 2018). Accessed 11 September 2020 from
  2. Burns (July 2020). Accessed 11 September 2020 from
  3. Burns (Last reviewed April 2016). Accessed 11 September 2020 from
  4. Overview: Burns and Scalds (Last reviewed September 2018). Accessed 11 September 2020 from
  5. Burns (Last reviewed August 2019). Accessed 11 September 2020 from
  6. Fire safety: One child dies every two weeks from fire-related injuries (April 2017). Accessed 11 September 2020 from
  7. First Aid for Burns: Parent FAQs (Last updated October 2015). Accessed 11 September 2020 from
  8. Burns and scalds - children (Last updated July 2019). Accessed 11 September 2020 from