Do you know how to treat minor burns?

Treatments & procedures

Do you know how to treat minor burns?

Minor burns can be treated quickly and effectively if you know what to do.

Shaney Hudson
November 2017

Minor burns are among the most painful yet common injuries we can encounter on a day-to-day basis. And 88% of minor burns occur in and around the home – these can be from cooking, hot water, chemicals (like pool chemicals) and more.

Most burns are caused by hot surfaces and occur on the wrists and hands. According to the Julian Burton Burns Trust, burns are one of the top causes of hospitalisation in children under 5 years of age in Australia.

You should seek immediate medical advice if the burn is larger than a 20 cent coin, on the face, hands, groin or feet, deep or infected, caused by chemicals or electricity, or if there are signs of inhalation injury (blackening around the mouth or nostrils, or swelling of airways). In any of these situations, it’s not a minor burn.

Common misconceptions

Although many of us get minor burns from time to time, recent research shows that 90% of us are unsure of the correct way to treat them. Common misconceptions include placing bags of frozen peas or an icepack on the area, applying ointments such as moisturising cream and toothpaste and even applying butter.

These home remedies can actually make the injury much worse, says Professor Fiona Wood, director of the Burn Injury Research Unit of the University of Western Australia.

“Burns can be quite frightening and painful, so I think people have a tendency to panic sometimes.”

Treating minor burns

If you receive a minor burn, the Julian Burton Burns Trust recommends a three-step approach:

  1. Remove yourself from any danger and remove anything that could irritate the burn such as clothing, watches or jewellery.
  2. Cool the burn under chilled running water for at least 20 minutes. This should be continuous for 20 minutes.
  3. Cover it with a clean dressing, such as cling film or a damp cloth, to protect it. Seek medical attention if you’re unsure of the severity of the burn.

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