Treating a burn – FAQs

Specialist Joanne Atkins answers your burning questions...

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A burn needs to be treated quickly and effectively. Joanne Atkins, burns specialist and British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) member, helps you get it right straight away by answering some FAQs…

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Is it ok to put cling film on a burn?

Yes. Cling film doesn’t stick and is see-through, so doesn’t always have to removed for an expert to examine the burn. Don’t wrap tightly around a limb, rather place a section over the affected area. This is a good dressing if you can travel right away to see a burns specialist or your GP.

Should I apply ice to a burn?

No. Ice can cause further burning and worsen the problem. Instead, use cold running water as an immediate treatment and pain relief.

Are there any foodstuffs that can treat a burn?

No. Avoid old wives’ tales like putting butter, egg whites or grated carrot on a burn.

Should a burn only be seen by an expert if it’s larger than the palm of a child’s hand?

The severity of a burn is measured by size, depth and body surface area. While this is not an exact measurement, the palm of a child’s hand is 1% of their body surface area. If a burn is this size or bigger it certainly needs to be examined. However, smaller burns, which you judge can’t be treated domestically, should also be checked out. If in doubt, ask a GP, local pharmacist or head to A&E when possible.

Should you leave clothing on if the burn is underneath it?

If you can remove clothing without causing damage to the skin and without delaying getting the injured area under cold running water, remove it. Otherwise, remove the clothing once under the cold water.

How long should you keep a burn under cold water?

Keep a burn under cold running water for 10 minutes without removing it. 

Should you cover a burn, or leave it to ‘breathe’?

You should cover a burn, whether that’s done domestically with a plaster, bandage or cling film, or by an expert. This is to avoid any infection, or knocks, which can be painful – particularly for a young child.

Is it ok to go to A&E for a small burn?

It’s best to use your common sense when it comes to judging who, if anyone, needs to examine a burn. If you think it can be dealt with at home, cover it and keep an eye on how it heals. If you think it needs to be seen, but isn’t urgent, try your GP or pharmacist. If you think the burn is very deep or covers a large area, head to A&E. The main point is, if in doubt, get it seen. Keep an eye out for a new telephone service being launched by the NHS where you’ll be able to text a picture to an expert to check over the phone.

Should you treat an electrical or fire burn differently to a hot water burn?

Treating the actual burn follows the same steps as for a hot water burn, but it’s important in these situations to make the area safe first. With an electrical burn, ensure your child isn’t still connected to a live socket or appliance. With a fire burn, ensure the fire is out and that you are in a safe area to apply treatment.

Why are children so often burnt?

Children tend to suddenly become mobile and have no sense of danger. They can quickly reach a hot mug, or chew through a wire. It’s important to make your home as safe as possible.

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