• Tim

Burn Injuries

With Bonfire Night rapidly approaching, we thought it was a useful time to review Burn Injuries.

Think you know this, take our Burns Quiz to find out.


There are several causes of burns:

  • Thermal - such as flames, hot liquids (usually called scalds) and hot solids

  • Chemicals - usually acids but may also be alkali

  • Electricity - usually from high voltage installations found in industry

  • Radiation - such as sunburn

  • Friction - such as on the heel of the foot often resulting in 'hot spots' or blisters


Regardless of the cause, the problem is that the skin is being damaged. The severity of the damage can be classified as:

  • Superficial (damage to the upper layers of skin) - red and painful

  • Partial-thickness (damage in to the dermis) - blistered (or blisters removed and wet) and painful

  • Full-thickness (damage in to the underlying tissues) - white and waxy, black and charred

It's worth remembering that burn severity may progress over time (hours) so a superficial burn may well become a partial-thickness burn, particularly if not treated well.

As well as the severity, it is also useful to describe the size of the burn. For example, 'a partial-thickness burn covering one side of their face'.


1. The first thing to do is stop the burning.

For thermal burns this involves separating the person from the source, if this hasn't happened already. Imagine an older person who has fallen and is lying against a radiator, unable to get up.

For chemical burns, read the packaging and follow the instructions if available. If not, brush off a powder (taking care not to contaminate other areas or people - including you!) or wash off with copious amounts of water (again being aware of not contaminating other areas. For eyes, always wash away from the other eye and try to catch the run off with a towel or some clothing.

For electricity, make sure the source has been turned off. Be sure not to put yourself at risk in the process.

2. Next, cool the burn.

Running the injury under cold running water for 20 minutes is recommended, but this really depends on the severity of the burn. Try to make sure you get all of the heat out of it, without making the person hypothermic. Cool the burn, warm the patient. Cooling can be beneficial up to 3 hours after the burn occurred.

3. Remove jewellery and clothing if you can - the burn is likely to swell.

If clothing is stuck to the burn, cut around it to remove the rest but never try to pull the clothing off.

4. Dress the burn, usually with cling film.

If the skin has been damaged or removed then there is potential for infection and for significant fluid loss in larger burns. Burns dressings have been shown to have little benefit over cling film. Cover the wound loosely with cling film and continue to cool if necessary. Covering the wound may also reduce the pain the individual is experiencing.

If the burn is severe, or there could be burns to the airway, this is a medical emergency and requires an ambulance. Call 999 as soon as possible.

Now try our Burns Quiz and see how you do!

Remember, prevention is better than cure. Enjoy bonfire night!