The World Health Organisation (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. Annually over a million people in Africa are affected by a burn-related injury, while globally 18% of hospital admissions are as a result of burn injuries.

According to emergency medical services provider, Netcare 911, most burns in SA 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.

“Children are naturally inquisitive and as soon as they become mobile or start walking, they begin exploring their environment. This could result in them pulling down pots or kettles filled with boiling hot water, touching hot objects such as stovetops or playing with fire, matches or candles,” said David Stanton, head of clinical leadership at Netcare 911.

“House fires are often caused by candles or paraffin lamps left unattended and Primus stove explosions. Electrical burns are also seen fairly often.”

 

SOURCES OF BURN INJURIES

• Thermal burns can come from explosions, flame, hot liquids, and contact with hot materials like heated glass or coals.

• Chemical burns are caused by strongly acidic or alkaline substances and require special care to stop injury to the skin.

• Electrical burns are caused by electricity, as the name implies, and need to be evaluated by a medical professional even if they look fine, as they can’t be accurately judged just by the external appearance.

 

DEGREES OF BURNS

According to the SA Burns Society, there are three different types of burns:

• First degree: Red skin, no blisters. Usually heals with little or no scarring.

• Second degree: Blisters and thickened skin. This can be a burn of either partial or full thickness of the skin, and full thickness burns may require skin grafting for the best healing.

• Third degree: Overall thickening of the affected skin, with a white colour. This burn is all the way through the skin. “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.”

 

TREATMENT

“The extent to which a burn will heal often depends on the quality of first aid received immediately after the injury. 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,” said Stanton.

First-degree burns can be treated at home, however second- and third-degree burns require medical attention For minor burns, including first-degree burns and second-degree burns limited to an area no larger than 7.5 cm in diameter, take the following action:

• Cool the burn: Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water for 10-15 minutes or until the pain subsides. If this is impractical, immerse the burn in cool water or cool it with cold compresses. Cooling the burn reduces swelling by conducting heat away from the skin.

• Make sure that the person keeps warm: Use a blanket or layers of clothing (avoiding the injured area) to prevent hypothermia occurring, when a person’s body temperature drops below 35°C. This is a risk when cooling a large burnt area, particularly in children and the elderly.

• Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage: Wrap the gauze loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin. Bandaging keeps air off the burn, reduces pain, and protects blistered skin. If bandages are not available, cover the burn with a layer of cling film over the burn, rather than wrapping it around a limb. A clean, clear plastic bag can be used for burns on the hands or feet.

• Take an OTC pain reliever: For pain relief use aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or paracetamol. Ibuprofen and naproxen will also help to prevent swelling. Minor burns with reddened skin and no blisters may be treated with a topical burn spray. Use a skincare product that protects and heals skin, such as aloe vera cream or an antibiotic ointment.