Burn treatment

Posted on 7 January 2014

Dr Philippus Nel, a general surgeon at Mediclinic Kloof, explains how to treat burns.

What treatment must I administer when faced with a burn – butter?
Historically, it was believed that coating wounds with butter, grease or oil would seal them from air and infection. These days the rules for treating burns are simple:
•    Ensure that the environment is safe for you and the patient before attending to the wound.
•    Remove any affected clothing or jewellery – if the clothing has melted into the wound, don’t try to remove it.
•    Cool the area down under clean, running water for up to 20 minutes.
•    Don’t apply ice directly to the burn, as it will jeopardise the blood supply to the area and can worsen the injury.
•    Depending on the severity of the burn and condition of the patient, seek medical assistance.
The only time it may be useful to apply butter or oil to a burn wound is in the case of a tar burn – the grease content will help to remove the hot tar from the skin to allow for further treatment.

My child has sunburnt to blisters. What do I do to ease the pain?
By the time you’ve sunburnt to blister stage, it’s considered a second-degree burn and more serious than stinging redness. Blistered sunburns are deep burns and there will be nerve damage, which is why they’re so extremely painful. The skin is vivid red, radiates heat, becomes swollen and the blisters may weep fluid, which can quickly fatally dehydrate you. To treat, leave the blisters alone, keep your skin clean to avoid infection, drink lots of water and manage pain with over-the-counter medications such anti-inflammatories that contain ibuprofen until you can see a doctor. If any symptoms like fever or vomiting occur, seek medical assistance immediately.

Does steam burn?
Water boils at 100°C, which means that the steam produced is at roughly at the same temperature. Steam becomes superheated – over 500°C – under extreme pressure. Steam can cause severe burns as it’s hotter than boiling water! Treat steam burns as you would any burn. Remove the cause of the burn safely, cool the area down immediately and seek medical advice.

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