Burn injury prevention: stop, drop and roll

2018-05-30 06:00

AS winter rapidly approaches, the risk of burn injuries increases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that over 96% of all fatal fire-related deaths occur in low to middle-income countries, with burns estimated to account for
180 000 deaths globally every year.

According to emergency medical services provider, Netcare 911, most burns in South Africa are caused by heat sources such as hot water or fire, and occur mainly in the home and workplace. Children often sustain burns in the kitchen or bathroom, while burns in the workplace are often due to fire, scalding, chemical and electrical burns.

“House fires are often caused by candles or paraffin lamps left unattended and Primus stove explosions. Electrical burns are also seen fairly often. Given the high incidence of burn-related injuries it is imperative to ensure that proper safety measures are in place to prevent serious burn injuries. The most important aspect to keep in mind when faced with a burn injury is to ensure that the affected person is removed from the source of heat and to cool the burnt or scalded area immediately with cool water,” Stanton said.

Tips to ensure the correct first aid treatment after a burn injury:

Stanton said that the first, most important rule is to move away from the heat source as soon as possible when a burn happens. “If your clothes have caught fire, follow the golden rule: stop, drop to the ground and roll to try to smother the flames. This rule also applies when you’re helping someone else who is in trouble.”

“Stop the burning process and remove any sources of heat. If the fire is small enough, put out any flames to prevent further contact with the burning material. If a person has been injured by hot liquid or steam, ensure that the person is removed from the source as soon as possible.”

The burning process in the area affected will continue even after the person has been removed from the source of the burn. To stop this, treat the burn immediately with cool, but not ice-cold, water. Depending on the location, size and severity of the injury, hold the affected area under cool running water until it becomes less painful. If larger areas of skin are affected, standing under a cool shower may be useful. “The goal is to reduce the heat as quickly as possible,” said Stanton.

It can cause damage to the skin if the affected area is immersed in very cold water, ice or if frozen items are placed on it. If an affected area is particularly large, it can also potentially lead to hypothermia and affect blood pressure and circulation. Do not rely on unfounded advice to apply butter, egg white, toothpaste or any types of lotions to the affected areas. “These substances can be difficult to clean out later and can cause infection. Supporting healing and reducing scarring should always be the overriding aim,” said Stanton.

Ensure that a sterile dressing is applied, as it will help to relieve the pain, reduce damage to the skin and prevent infection. “In order to keep the sterile dressing on the wound, cover it with a bandage,” Stanton said.

However, when applying a dressing, take care not to break the skin and do not attempt to peel any blisters. “In addition, ensure that the wound is not covered by any fluffy, sticky or adhesive materials as this could further damage the area, and could potentially lead to infection”.

When to seek medical assistance:

“If the burn injury is severe, causes significant pain and/or is larger than the palm of your hand, visit an emergency department or call an emergency medical services provider such as Netcare 911 at 082 911 for assistance. If the burn becomes infected, you have not had a recent tetanus vaccination, or blisters occur, you should seek medical advice from your doctor or emergency medical services provider,” Stanton said.

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