Scalds Burns and Blisters

Scalds, Burns and Blisters – Treatment and Diagnosis Overlook

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One of the first safety lessons we learn as kids is to stay away from fire. A lesson that turns instinctive for us as we grow up. And although our body automatically shrinks away from fire or any kind of intense heat, a minor burn here or there can’t always be avoided.

Getting burnt is definitely quite painful in the moment, but the aftermath of it is where the real trouble begins. Watching your skin blister and dry up as it heals can be worrying. Scarred skin and blisters from a scald or burn are not only painful, but interfere with daily life and can make going about your routine difficult. This is why everybody should be equipped with the basic burns and scalds first aid knowledge to be able to aid the burn to heal properly and ease the pain.

What are Burns

As we all know, burns are a type of tissue damage, they can be caused by either thermal heat, chemical substances or electricity. The severity is determined according to: 

  • The depth of the burn
  • The size of the area affected
  • Age of the person injured
  • The type of burn (thermal, electric, chemical)

 The depth of a burn is measured in burn degrees, there are 3 main burn degrees characterized by the following symptoms:

First degree burns:

Otherwise known as superficial burns, first degree burns are the least severe as they only affect the top layer of the skin. They may cause redness but do not lead to blisters. These are quite commonly incurred in the kitchen. They do not tend to get infected or leave a scar.

Second-degree burns:

These are also called partial thickness burns, and are more severe than first degree burns as the tissue damage extends beyond the first layer of skin. They cause blisters on the skin in addition to redness and soreness. However, the damage is not permanent and the skin usually regrows with basic treatment.

Third-degree burns:

These burns are the most severe and require hospitalization. Usually seen in cases of residential or industrial fires, they cause extensive tissue damage as well as nerve damage. These burns do not heal by themselves, skin grafting is usually required to boost skin regrowth around the injury.

Third-degree burns may not feel painful at first since the injury extends to the nerve endings and can result in a loss of feeling, hence if you are not feeling pain from a major burn, this should be treated as a matter of concern.

Knowing the difference in burn degrees can help you communicate effectively to medical personnel if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation.

The difference between burns and scalds

While you may have heard the terms burns and scalds being used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. Scalding occurs when you drop hot liquids on your skin, or from contact with hot steam, whereas burns are from direct contact with a hot object, electric current or chemicals. 

Inhalation injuries are also worth a mention, these are internal burns that can harm the lungs. They occur when you breathe in smoke, hot steam or toxic gases. The intensity of the burn depends on the duration of exposure.

What are blisters?

After incurring a burn, you might notice upraised blisters forming around the burned skin. These burn blisters are a covering that the body forms in order to protect the area from infection. They are bubbles of fluid that form under the skin, they form over mild burns as well as severe ones and will heal by themselves. 

You should not attempt to pop the blister as it is a natural part of the body’s healing process and provides protection for the underlying skin. Instead of popping them, leave them as is until the burnt skin underneath heals. Correctly following the burns and scalds first aid steps mentioned below can help reduce blistering.

Burns and scalds first aid

Scalds, first degree burns and minor second-degree burns can be treated right at home as long as you know the correct basic procedures to follow. Third-degree burns however, should be looked at by a medical professional, do not attempt to treat them at home.

Here are the steps for treating minor burns at home:

  1. Remove any clothing or constrictions from near the injured area, including any jewellery
  2. If any clothing is stuck to the burnt skin do not attempt to remove it
  3. Cool the burn with cold running water for 10-20 minutes 
  4. Apply a soothing ointment, such as aloe vera gel
  5. Cover it with a clean bandage to keep the area protected

Do not apply ice on the burn as this can cause further tissue damage. If needed, you can take pain relievers to ease the pain. Home remedies such as applying toothpaste or butter on the burn should also be strictly avoided as these do not help with healing and are only falsely touted myths.

Electrical burns can be treated in the same way, make sure not to make contact with the injured person if they are still in contact with the electrical source, once the source of the burn has been eliminated you can go ahead and treat the burn.

In the case of severe burns, do not attempt to treat them by yourself, get medical help immediately.

Dealing with major burns

Third-degree burns are considered as major burns, these burns cause serious damage through every layer of skin. Since they do not usually heal by themselves, intensive medical treatment can be required. The treatment depends on the severity of the burn. In appearance, the burn will be discoloured or appear dry and leathery.

Treatment for these burns includes measures such as:

  • Surgery- Burn surgery attempts to remove dead and damaged skin tissue from the burn site, after which reconstructive surgery can begin which aims to improve the appearance and function of burn scars. Scarring may affect the extent of mobility in the injured body part, which is where reconstructive surgery can help.
  • Skin grafts- To enable healthy regrowth of skin, a thin layer of unburned skin can be taken and surgically placed over the burn area. There are many different types of skin grafts, according to the size, severity and location of the burn.
  • Tetanus shots- Since burn injuries have a high risk of infection, tetanus shots are a viable prevention method. If your tetanus shot is not up to date you should let your doctor know immediately as the infection can have serious implications.
  • Medication- Pain medication is usually prescribed to alleviate pain. Antibiotics can also be used to reduce the risk of infection.

When it comes to major burns, the mental health of the patient is also an important treatment criterion, especially in cases where there is serious bodily disfigurement. Psychological services can help in such a case, to help the patient cope with the trauma of the injury. Physical therapy is also recommended in cases where there is physical impairment.

Prevention tips to keep in mind

Sometimes, being cautious is all it takes to avoid minor burns. Keep these prevention tips in mind to live an easier, safe life.

  • Replace frayed or worn electrical cords on time
  • Use the back burners on your stove when possible
  • Turn pot handles inwards when cooking to avoid spills
  • Keep flammable objects such as matches or lighters out of reach of children
  • Don’t leave outdoor fires unattended

Additionally, you should ensure that your building or home has proper exits in case of emergency, and fire extinguishers at hand. Invest in a smoke alarm and teach your children basic fire safety measures, such as the stop drop and roll technique. Keep your first aid safety kit updated as well so that you have the material at hand to deal with superficial burns, right at home.

Now that you know all the basics of dealing with scalds, burns and blisters you will be prepared for worst-case scenarios, wherever you go. Keep these tips in mind and do not hesitate in reaching out for medical help as and when the situation requires it.

Disclaimer - Please note that the above recommendations are general care tips. Consult a health care professional in case of any uncertainty around wound treatment and healing.

Always see your doctor if a wound is deep, bleeding profusely or shows signs of infection. For diabetic patients especially, proper wound care holds the utmost importance. Do not hesitate to discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor or your podiatrist, even when it comes to minor wounds and cuts – especially if they’re on your feet.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Although compiled with great care, it is not a substitute for professional advice. If you have or suspect a health problem, consult your doctor immediately. 

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