When I was at school there were certain events which were permanent fixtures on the school calendar, and occurred year in year out, no matter what. I’m not talking about fun things like the swimming gala or the play – but the ‘educational’ assemblies. Each year a retired policeman used to visit the school to teach us about personal safety, there was definitely a road awareness talk at least once every 12 months and I rather randomly remember hearing anti-vivisection campaigners speak with remarkable regularity (don’t know why they bothered as we were already committed ‘Body Shop’ customers anyway!). Arrays of kind-hearted people were wheeled out at our assemblies to try to ‘inspire’ us…and I’m sure most of it fell on very deaf ears!
One talk that occurred without fail at this time of year, was the fire safety lecture, and it coincided with Bonfire night for obvious reasons. Now, being by nature someone who not only has a very vivid imagination, but also is a bit of a scaredy-cat, the annual fire safely talks have left me with a life long fear of electric blankets, chip pans and lighting fireworks. When each November my Dad would trudge round the garden attempting to set off a few paltry bangers I would be beside myself thinking he was about to impale himself on a roman candle. So in many ways the kindly Fireman did his job, as I definitely err on the cautious side when it comes to anything flammable.
One thing I don’t remember learning at school was what to do if things go wrong and you do get burnt or scalded. Obviously prevention is better than cure, but accidents unfortunately do happen. So here is a quick ‘chatty doctor style’ guide to dealing with burns at home….
Burns are a fairly common injury, with around 90% being classified as minor. One should never be complacent though as 1000 cases each year are much more serious, and tragically 300 people annually do not survive their burns injuries.
The first thing to be aware of is that there are different levels of burn severity. The most minor leaves your skin with mild redness such as in the case of sunburn. The second type of burn involves only the very top layers of your skin, and usually heals within 2 weeks without any scarring. Burns involving deeper layers of skin need more sophisticated medical attention as they can leave scaring or more serious problems if left untreated.
Initial first aid for all burns or scalds involves trying to cool the skin down. Ideally you want to start this process within 20 minutes of having sustained the injury. Use cool or tepid water, around 15oC, and avoid using ice-cold solutions. Immerse the area in the water or under a running tap for between 10-30 minutes.
Afterwards covered the wound with a clean dressing. For practical purposes the easiest thing to use in the home is Clingfilm. Discard the first few centimetres of the roll (which may not be terribly clean) and layer on pieces of Clingfilm over the wound. Take care not to wrap the roll around a limb, as burn sites can swell and this can lead to the Clingfilm getting too tight. If the wound area is quite large pop a blanket over the top of the Clingfilm for extra warmth. Clean plastic bags (a freezer bag would work well) are useful for hand wounds as they allow free movement whilst offering protection to the wound. Avoid using creams or wet dressings at this stage. Unless you are extremely confident the burn or scald is very minor it is always worth getting your GP or A&E department to assess it. Burns covering larger areas of the body, or affecting the face, palms, genitals or creases of limbs definitely need hospital assessment. If more treatment is required the Nurse may opt to use specialist dressings and or ointments to aid healing, and will probably want to check the area every 3-5 days.
Even minor burns can result in blisters and I think most of us can be divided into ‘blister poppers’ or ‘blister leavers’. Medically speaking, small blisters associated with burns should be left and are likely to sort themselves out over the following 2 weeks. Large blisters or ones located in awkward positions can be ‘popped’, but this should be done carefully and using sterile equipment, so is best done by your doctor.
Burns – even minor ones – can be painful, so paracetamol or ibuprofen is suitable to take. Occasionally burns can become infected, so if the area seems to be getting more painful, hotter or redder with time please go and see your GP.
Once the burn has healed, massage the area regularly with a rich moisturiser and cover with SpF to protect from the sun.
If you are venturing out to a bonfire party over the weekend please have lots of fun…but also take care…and if you happen to see a heavily pregnant woman blaring out the Firework Code to all in sundry it might just be me!