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Be a lifesaver: How to treat burn injuries with first aid
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Be a lifesaver: How to treat burn injuries with first aid

Burn injuries should be addressed at the earliest. One should not apply any medication or natural remedy to the affected area and consult a doctor immediately, say experts

Providing first aid for burns can help minimize damage. It’s important to run the burn site under cold or tap water for 15 to 20 minutes

Rescuing someone in the midst of dense smoke and flames during a fire accident can be a formidable task. An accidental fire breakout, which can result from a chemical mishap, electrical short circuit, gas cylinder burst or spilling of boiling water, can severely affect the tissues. In such cases, the right intervention can not only save lives but also reduce the risk of severe burn injuries.

A recent fire that broke out in a government-run lab in Bangalore resulted in nine people sustaining major burn injuries, with three of them in critical condition. Burns can range from minor to life-threatening. Severe burns require immediate medical attention, and swift action can help minimize skin damage to a great extent.

First aid for burns: Safety comes first

Before attending to burn injuries, it is important to ensure the safety of the people affected as well as the rescuer, says Dr Ramesh KT, head of department, plastic surgery and burns, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI), Bangalore. “In case of a major fire, swift intervention can play a vital role in minimizing damage. If one’s clothes are on fire, it must be put out by wrapping them with a blanket or rug. Subsequently, those affected along with the rescuer should be transferred to a safe zone first to ensure their safety,” he adds.

While rescuing someone from a fire accident, the source of the fire (like an electrical plug socket) must be cut off in addition to putting out the fire (with water or a fire extinguisher), explains Dr Ramesh.

“Electrical burns can be far worse than they appear,” he says. “While there may not be any apparent signs on the surface, they can burn or damage the tissues on the inside, with the signs becoming noticeable after a few days.” 

Dos and don’ts while addressing burn injuries

Dr Neetha Sandeep Kumar, assistant professor, emergency medicine, Mamata Academy of Medical Sciences, Bachupally, Hyderabad, explains the immediate first aid measures for burns:

  • Seek medical help at the earliest.
  • Never attempt to remove the clothes of those affected if they are stuck to their body, as doing so forcefully may further damage the tissue. Clothes can be removed if they come off easily.
  • Cool the affected tissue by running it under tap or cold water for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Do not apply any medication or natural remedies (like honey, ointments, powders or sprays) immediately after the burn.
  • After an hour, put an ice pack on the wound or apply silver sulfadiazine (an antibiotic chemical used for burns).
  • Remove all the jewelry, like chains, rings and bangles, as they can get stuck when there’s swelling and affect blood circulation. This, in turn, could even lead to the amputation of the finger or arm.
  • If blisters appear on the skin, do not pop them, as doing so can result in an infection.

“Applying anything to the burn will only make it worse. It is important to keep the burnt area clean and get assistance from a medical professional,” says Dr Ramesh, stressing the importance of consulting a doctor regardless of the severity of the burn.

He also cautions that one needs to be careful while dealing with chemical burns (like an acid attack), where the water needs to be poured only at the affected area. “In case of chemical burns, one must ensure that the water doesn’t push the chemical to the unaffected parts of the body, as that may expand the burn area,” he says.

Types of burn injuries

There are three degrees of burns: first-degree, second-degree and third-degree burns. First- and second-degree burns are painful, while one loses consciousness in case of third-degree burns, Dr Kumar, who is also a member of the Association of Emergency Physicians of India. “Third-degree burns are very severe as they affect all the layers of the skin and destroy the nerve endings. As a result, one doesn’t feel pain,” she explains.

Treating burn injuries

A superficial burn (minor burn) might not require any treatment, and applying silver sulfadiazine should be sufficient, says Dr Kumar. “If it’s a third-degree burn, one should immediately consult a doctor. If one’s face has sustained burn injuries, regardless of the severity, they need to be rushed to the hospital as the injuries might lead to airway edema [inflammation of the airways resulting from burns or inhaling toxic fumes],” she explains.

She further adds that people standing close to the fire might get affected as well but may not show signs on the surface. “Inhaling the hot and toxic fumes can affect their airways, and they need to be treated immediately before slipping into an airway edema,” she says, adding that the common practice they follow to assess the extent of the damage involves checking the person’s nostrils to see if the nasal hairs are intact or burnt.

Takeaways

  • People who have suffered burn injuries, along with their rescuers, must be immediately brought to a safe zone before starting first aid.
  • It’s important to run the burn site under cold or tap water for 15 to 20 minutes. In case of chemical burns, it must be ensured that the water doesn’t push the chemical to the unaffected parts of the body, as that may expand the burn area.
  • One should not apply anything to the wound and consult a doctor if there are blisters or signs of a second or third-degree burn.

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