The word on wound care – burns
Minor scrapes, scratches, cuts and insect bites can be self-treated quite successfully, but when it comes to burns it’s important to understand which types of burns can be self-treated and which require medical assistance.
The different types of burns include: chemical, electrical, radiation and thermal burns, with the latter being the most common burn for which people self-treat.
Burns are classified into degrees based on their depth. A first-degree burn (also known as a superficial burn) causes skin inflammation along with redness, swelling and pain. It only affects the thin, top layer of skin – the epidermis, with sunburn commonly lying in this category.
A second-degree burn is a deeper burn, affecting more than just the epidermis. Inflammation, redness and pain are accompanied by blistering.
The deepest of burns is a third-degree burn, which impacts on all 3 layers of the skin, the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous tissue. It usually causes less pain than the other 2 types of burns because the nerves are damaged. Professional medical help should be sought.
First and second-degree burns relating to thermal exposure (heat burns) or sunburn can generally be treated at home, but should be closely monitored as they can progress to more severe burns. For example, a second-degree burn may mature and worsen, affecting the deepest layer of the skin – the subcutaneous tissue, becoming a third-degree burn.
Third-degree burns require medical help. Other than the degree classification of the burn, the location of the burn on the body can also play a significant role in whether or not self-treatment is acceptable. If the burn is on the face, neck, groin, hands, feet, or affects a major joint it’s important to seek medical help as this could lead to respiratory or mobility issues down the track.
Self-treatment of minor burns
Immediately immerse burned skin in cold water for 20 to 30 minutes to reduce swelling and the size of the area affected and also the depth of the burn. Ice should not be applied directly onto a burn as this can cause further damage.
Providing the skin is not broken you can apply an antiseptic cream as this will help keep the wound germ free. In general, first aid/antiseptic creams contain both an anaesthetic and anti-inflammatory agents to help reduce pain and ease swelling.
If the burn is weeping, cover the burn with a wound dressing to help prevent infection. However, leave blistering skin well alone. The blister protects the damaged skin underneath from further damage or infection.
Keep an eye out for any signs of infection such as excessive swelling, increased redness or discharge.
As the skin starts to heal it may become itchy. Try applying a topical Vitamin E cream as this can aid skin healing while also soothing the skin.
The things to keep top of mind when addressing burns are: promoting skin healing, preventing infection, relieving pain and discomfort and keeping scarring at bay.
by Leanne Philpott