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From sunburns to scalds, burns can happen in many ways. And sometimes it can be hard to tell if a burn needs professional medical treatment because they can range in severity and sometimes worsen over time.


What Causes Burns?

Many different substances can cause burns: the sun, electricity, fire, hot liquids, heated objects and chemicals. Thermal burns – from steam, scalding liquids, hot metals or flames – are the most common type of burns.



Sneaky Burns That Can Be Serious

What is Sunburn?
Sunburn is a burn to the skin produced by overexposure to the sun’s rays. Sometimes sunburns are serious and require medical attention. 

Symptoms of Sunburn

  • Skin that is tight, red, and painful.

  • Swollen skin.

  • Blisters.

  • Fever and chills. 

Prevent Sunburn
You can avoid sunburn through good prevention measures.

  • Stay out of the sun from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., when sunlight is strongest. 

  • Cover your skin with a brimmed hat, sunglasses, and light, breathable fabric.

  • Use sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, and apply it at least 20 minutes before going outside. Be sure to reapply every few hours and immediately after swimming or sweating. 



Burn treatment depends upon the burn’s severity and the substance that caused the burn.

We can treat minor and medium skin burns caused by exposure to sun or heat. These  burns are typically characterized by some redness, light swelling, and/or minor to moderate pain. Severe burns always require immediate evaluation and treatment at an emergency room.  

Burns have 3 degrees of severity:

  • First-degree burns —Injury is only to the outer layer of skin. They are red and painful, and may cause some swelling. The skin turns white when touched.

  • Second-degree burns —These burns are deeper and more severe. They cause blisters and the skin is very red or splotchy. There may be more significant swelling.

  • Third-degree burns —These cause damage to all layers of the skin down to the tissue underneath. The burned skin looks white or charred. These burns may cause little or no pain because the nerves in the skin are destroyed.

Minor Burns

To offer relief for most minor burns and sunburns, consider: 

  • Holding the burn under cool running water for 10 to 15 minutes or apply a cool cloth to the affected area. 

  • Keeping blisters intact. If you have blisters, don’t break them. If they break on their own, wash them gently with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover them with a bandage. 

  • Applying lotion that contains aloe vera, which many help to relieve pain and swelling. 

  • Protecting any newly burned areas from exposure to cold, because burned skin can more easily develop frostbite.

  • Avoiding putting ice or butter on burned skin, because these can possibly damage tissue. 

While tending to a burn or sunburn be sure to watch for signs of infection: delayed healing, increased pain, or increased warmth around the burn. If you suspect a possible infection, visit your local MedExpress so a provider can evaluate the wound.


Severe Burns

Special circumstances when burns should always be considered severe:

  • If the burn involves children or the elderly. 

  • If the burn affects the eyes. 

  • If the burn was caused by electricity or chemicals. 

  • If the burn affects most of the hands or feet, or if it is on the face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint. 

Severe burns require immediate medical attention. Until it is obtained:

  • Be sure not to remove clothing that may be stuck to skin. 

  • However, you can remove any jewelry or belts, because burned areas swell quickly.

  • Large burns should not be immersed in cold water, because it can cause hypothermia. 

  • If possible, elevate the burned area.

  • Gently cover the burn with a clean, cool, moist cloth. 

Caring for an electrical burn:

  • Call or send someone to call 112 for emergency medical

assistance. Significant electrical injuries will need medical care.

  • Unplug the appliance or device that has caused

the injury or turn off the electrical current.

  • If the person is in contact with the electrical current do not

touch them until you turn off the source or the circuit breaker.

  • Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of circulation,

such as breathing, coughing or movement.

  • Cover the burned area with a sterile gauze bandage

or clean bed sheet.

  • Try to prevent the injured person from becoming chilled.

  • Be aware that a person may experience "shock" after an

electrical burn.

  • Apply a bandage. Cover any burned areas with a sterile gauze

bandage, if available, or a clean cloth.

  • Don't use a blanket or towel, because loose fibers can stick to

the burns.

What are the symptoms of shock?

The following are the most common symptoms of shock. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of shock may include:

  • cold sweat

  • weakness

  • irregular breathing

  • chills

  • pale or blue-colored lips

  • pale or blue-colored fingernails

  • a fast, but weak pulse

  • nausea



Wounds can become infected if bacteria get into them. If your burn or scald has a blister that's burst, it may become infected if it's not kept clean.

Seek medical attention for any burn that causes a blister.

Your wound may be infected if:

  • it's uncomfortable, painful or smelly

  • you have a high temperature of 38C or higher 

  • you have signs of cellulitis, a bacterial infection that causes redness and swelling of the skin

Seek immediate medical attention if you think your burn has become infected. An infection can usually be treated with antibiotics and painkilling medication, if necessary.

In rare cases, an infected burn can cause blood poisoning (sepsis) or toxic shock syndrome. These serious conditions can be fatal if not treated.

Signs of sepsis and toxic shock syndrome include:

  • a high temperature

  • dizziness

  • vomiting



scar is a patch or line of tissue that remains after a wound has healed. Most minor burns only leave minimal scarring.

You can try to reduce the risk of scarring after the wound's healed by:

  • applying an emollient, such as aqueous cream or emulsifying ointment, 2 or 3 times a day

  • using sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to protect the healing area from the sun when you're outside

Many severe burns and scalds affect babies and young children. The following advice can help reduce the likelihood of your child having a serious accident.


In the kitchen

  • it's best to keep your toddler out of the kitchen, well away from kettles, saucepans and hot oven doors – you could put a safety gate across the doorway to stop them getting in

  • use a kettle with a short or curly cord to stop it hanging over the edge of the work surface, where it could be grabbed

  • when cooking, use the rings at the back of the cooker and turn saucepan handles towards the back so your child can't grab them


In the bathroom

  • never leave a child under 5 alone in the bath, even for a moment

  • fit a thermostatic mixing valve to your bath's hot tap to control the temperature

  • put cold water into the bath first, then add the hot water – use your elbow to test the temperature of the water before you put your baby or toddler in the bath


Throughout the home

  • put your iron, hair straighteners or curling tongs out of reach while they cool down after you have finished using them

  • fit fireguards to all fires and heaters

  • keep matches, lighters and lit candles out of young children's sight and reach


Hot drinks

  • keep hot drinks well away from young children – a hot drink can still scald 20 minutes after it was made

  • put hot drinks down before you hold your baby

  • after warming a bottle of milk, shake the bottle well and test the temperature of the milk by placing a few drops on the inside of your wrist before feeding – it should feel lukewarm, not hot

  • do not let your child drink a hot drink through a straw

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