Don’t get burned this holiday – be prepared with the first part of our fantastic first aid series

By admin
01 December 2013

Here, we give you guidelines on applying basic first aid with the help of first aid staff of Crisis on Call. We also discuss when to go to hospital or treat at home and what to include in your first aid kit.

We know how quickly accidents can happen and being prepared could make a huge difference when they do. Not everyone has completed a first aid course so we’re bringing you a fantastic seven-part first aid series to help you if something happens in your home or while you’re on holiday.

Flickr: Coda

PART 1: This week we look at burns.


There are four types of burn wound; those caused by:

# Heat (fire, steam or hot liquids);

# electricity;

# the sun;

# and chemicals. The severity of burn wounds is measured by the depth of the wound (expressed in degrees from one to four) and the size of the wound (expressed as a percentage from one to 100): DEGREES 1st degree: The skin is red, sensitive to touch and usually moist. A light fever, restlessness and headache may occur. 2nd degree: The skin is damaged and blisters may occur. The pain is worse than in 1st degree burns and the red ness is brighter. 3rd degree: The skin is deeply damaged and looks bright red, white or black. It’s possible for there to be no pain and no blisters because the nerves have also been burnt. 4th degree: The skin is damaged right down to the muscle and bone.


Doctors use percentages to determine the severity of the burn. The higher the percentage, the more severe the wound. It’s measured from minimum to moderate and each body part is given a percentage.

To get to the severity of the wound take the size of the burn (see below for various body parts) then work out the total percentage of your body that was affected.

For example: if your head, neck and one arm and hand were burnt it’s:

Head and neck = 9%

Arm and hand = 9%

9% + 9% = 18%

You have 18% burn wounds, which means you have moderate burn wounds.


Hand = 1%

Head and neck = 9%

A hand and an arm = 9%

A foot and a leg = 9%

Chest and stomach = 18%

Back (including buttocks) = 18%


Minimum = 15%

Moderate = 15 – 49%

Great = 50 – 69%

Gigantic = 70%

When must I take the person to hospital and when can I treat the burn at home?

# Most 1st degree burns covering less than 15% of the body can be treated at home.

# Children under two years old should be taken to a doctor.

# When the burns cover more than 70% of the body the victim must go to hospital.

# When the victim’s consciousness is affected he must go to hospital.

# Any 3rd degree burn must be treated in hospital.

# Anyone burnt by electricity must be examined by a doctor.

# If the victim’s hands, feet, genitals or face are burnt, a doctor must examine the wounds.

# Chemical burns that make blisters must immediately be examined by a professional.


Each type of burn wound must be treated differently.

Wounds caused by heat:

  1. Put out the fire. If the person is still burning wrap him in  a blanket or towel to put out the flames.
  2. Don’t apply any creams, butter, plaster or home remedies near or to the burns as they can cause the heat to be retained.
  3. Don’t remove clothing that has burnt into the skin.
  4. Remove jewellery before the affected area begins to swell.
  5. For small burn wounds dunk the burnt part in cold water (not iced water). To prevent numbness limit the dunking period to five minutes at a time. You can also apply moist cloths to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time – this will reduce pain and swelling.
  6. In the case of a burnt limb, keep the affected area above the level of the heart for the first 24 hours.
  7. Aloe vera gel can be used for 1st degree burns but read the directions first because some gels contain alcohol or perfume, which can irritate the skin. The gel can be chilled in the fridge to give more relief.
  8. Over-the-counter local anaesthetic creams can help relieve pain.
  9. Don’t pierce blisters as this can lead to infection.

10. Wash the wound once a day with antibacterial soap and apply an antibiotic cream.

11. If blisters burst remove loose skin carefully.

12. Drink a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Burns cause by electricity

  1. If there are electrical wires near the victim turn off the power and disconnect the appliance.
  2. If it’s impossible to switch off the power, insulate yourself by drying your hands well and putting on substantial dry gloves before touching the victim. You can also use a thick cloth to insulate yourself.
  3. Stand on an insulated surface (paper or a towel). Don’t stand directly on the ground, metal or anything else.
  4. Remove the wires carefully using a non-metal instrument that doesn’t conduct electricity. It can be a broomstick or something made of rubber.
  5. Keep the victim calm and wrap him in blankets.
  6. Cover open wounds with gauze or bandages.
  7. If there is bleeding limit it by applying pressure to the wound.
  8. Take the victim to a doctor or to hospital.

Burns caused by the sun:

  1. Place a wet cloth on the wound to relieve pain.
  2. Make the person drink a lot.
  3. Run a lukewarm bath containing bicarbonate of soda for the person.
  4. Determine how severely burnt the person is and whether he should see a doctor.

Burns caused by chemicals

  1. Rinse the affected area for five minutes in running, cold water. Ensure the dirty water runs away and doesn’t splash onto you or the other person.
  2. If it’s a large wound the person must lie flat on the way to hospital. This is to prevent blood pressure dropping as a result of shock.

What should I have in my First Aid kit?

A small pair of scissors

Aloe vera gel that contains no alcohol or perfume

Local anaesthetic cream

Antibacterial soap

Antibiotic ointment

Bandages and gauze

Bicarbonate of soda

Cottonwool and gauze to clean the wounds.

How to prevent burns

# Keep a fire extinguisher near the fireplace. Use it on small fires only.

# Don’t wear loose clothing near fires.

# Don’t smoke in bed. # Don’t allow the handles of pots and pans to extend over the edge of the stove. # Don’t light a firework while holding it in your hand. By Alet van Zyl

Picture: Flickr - Coda

To join Crisis on Call SMS YOU and your email address to 33282. SMSes cost R1,50 each.

Find Love!