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Scalding First Aid

Scalding burns can seriously damage or destroy human skin cells. Much deeper burns can harm bones, muscles and fat. The most vulnerable are children and elderly people whose skin is much thinner, sometimes with lower sensing abilities, poor judgment and slow reactions. Other equally vulnerable people are disabled persons, including people on crutches, in wheelchairs, or those in need of supervision.

The main cause of scalding is hot tap water, followed closely by steam, shower temperature spikes, hot drinks and cooking liquids. The majority of scalding burns can be prevented. However, if scalding occurs, immediate first aid is necessary. If the burn is serious enough, immediate medical attention from a doctor is absolute. If the burn is severe, hospitalization is mandatory and should be done as quickly as possible. Remember, the cost of an ambulance is nothing compared to the importance of helping a seriously injured or possibly dying individual.

Scalding burn procedures (immediate):

The depth of the injury is determined by the temperature exposed to and the duration of the exposure. The higher a temperature is, the less time that is needed to cause a burn. To determine this, do the following:

  • Do not confuse pain or lack of it with the severity of the burn

  • Examine the burn without touching it too much – look only

  • Use your wrist crease to your finger crease at the edge of your palm to determine the size of the area burnt. One of these equals 1% of the body’s surface.

  • Does the burn resemble a sunburn? (see 1st degree burn)

  • Is there any swelling? (see 1st degree burn)

  • Is there any redness? (see 1st and/or 2nd degree burn)

  • Are there any blisters? (see 2nd degree burn)

  • Is the burn white or black, or both? (see 3rd degree burn, and dial 911)

  • Does the burn appear bloodless? (see 3rd degree burn, and dial 911)

  • Does the burn appear to be leathery and hard? (see 3rd degree burn, and dial 911)

  • If the victim is a baby, child, disabled person or elderly person, no matter how mild the burn appears, get medical assistance immediately or dial 911.

  • If the burn has injured the hands, face, genitalia, feet, joint creases, or the entire circumference of a limb or the body, get medical assistance immediately or dial 911.

1st Degree Burn:

The burn looks like a sunburn, may have mild swelling, redness and some pain. The damage is on the surface and the pain should subside within 72 hours, but there should be no or little scarring. Treat at home as follows:

Remove all clothing and any jewelry from the injured area right away. Put the burnt area under cold running water, submerge in cold water, or place a clean, cold, wet cloth on the burn. Never use ice! Gently clean the burn with mild or baby soap and water. Apply an antiseptic lotion/cream and cover with a bandage or dry gauze. Give a mild painkiller (paracetamol, acetaminophen or ibuprofen), or something as directed by a physician. Never ever use oil, grease or butter on the wound!

2nd Degree Burn:

The burn looks like a sunburn with blisters, may have mild swelling, redness and will be very painful because the nerve endings have been slightly damaged. The burn has injured the skin’s upper layer and part of the layer beneath it. There is the possibility of infection, but if kept clean, the burn should heal in about 14 days with no or little scarring. Treat at home as follows:

Follow the procedures for 1st degree burns. Do not pop any blisters to aid healing and avoid infection. Broken blisters must be cleaned with water, and have an antibiotic lotion/cream applied gently. Cover with a dry gauze bandage. If the injury is to a limb, elevate it. If after 2 days the wound is not healing, appears very red and swollen around the edges, discomfort is increasing or it appears yellowy and full of pus, see a doctor as soon as possible. Antibiotics may be needed.

3rd Degree Burn:

Dial 911 now! This burn looks white or black, or both, appears bloodless, and feels or looks hard and leathery, but there is probably no pain. The burn has completely destroyed the skin, leaving no way for it to heal properly. It will need skin grafting and wound contraction to keep the area covered. It will leave terrible scars.

After dialing 911, you must:

  • Not remove clothing or any item on or near the burn site

  • Do not use cold water or medicines

  • Cover the burn with dry, clean cloths

  • If a limb is burnt, elevate it immediately

  • If the burn is on the face, ensure the person can breath and isn’t having difficulty doing so

  • Check the person for shock – try to keep them calm, but alert

  • Get the victim to a hospital immediately

Sources: Alberta Municipal Affairs
Clinical Reference Systems
Person ALMS.Com
How Stuff Works.Com
Safety Council.Org>