Burns and scalds are both caused by being exposed to high temperature. Burns are caused by dry heat such as being burnt by fire, electrical burns or getting sunburnt. Scalds are caused by wet heat such as hot liquids or steam.
The symptoms of a burn or scald can be different depending on how serious it is. Some common symptoms include:
- Red skin
- Peeling skin
- Swelling around the area of burn or scald
- White or burnt looking skin
What you can do
Apply proper first aid to any burn or scald as soon as possible. This will reduce the amount of damage to the skin.
First aid advice for burns and scalds:
- Ensure the person is not harmed further. This may mean removing the person from the area, putting out the fire with water or by covering the fire with a blanket.
- Do not put yourself at risk of getting burnt as well. Approach the person only if you can do so safely.
- Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burnt area of skin. However do not try to remove anything that is stuck to the burnt skin because this could cause more damage.
- Cool the burnt area with cool or lukewarm water for 10-30 minutes. It is best to do this within 20 minutes of the injury occurring. Do not use ice, iced water, creams or oily substances, such as butter, to cool the area.
- If blisters are present, do not break them.
When to see doctor
See a doctor if:
- The burn happens over a large area or if you notice blisters
- The burn looks white or blackened, with little or no pain
- It is an electrical or chemical burn
- There is an increase in pain, swelling, redness or there is pus
- You develop fever
- Smoke or fumes were breathed in during the burning process
- The pain cannot be tolerated
- You have medical conditions such as heart, lung or liver disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system
- You are pregnant
- You are more than 60 years old
- The burn/scald happened to a child less than five years old
You can prevent scalds and burns
Nearly half of all serious burns and scalds happen in children less than five years old. Out of these, about half of the accidents happened in the kitchen and the most common injury is being scalded with hot liquids.
Tips on preventing burns - especially for children
- Keep young children out of the kitchen unless they are supervised by an adult
- Do not let a child drink hot drinks through a straw
- Do not heat up a baby's milk in a microwave. It may heat the milk unevenly and some parts may become very hot. Stir baby food well if it is heated in a microwave.
- If you are preparing water to bathe a baby, put cold water in the bath first, then add hot water to make it lukewarm.
Updated in Nov 2018
This article does not take the place of talking to your doctor or pharmacist. People with special health needs such as babies, children below 12 year old, elderly and pregnant ladies should see a doctor instead of self-treatment. Always read the instructions and warnings on the package before taking any medicine.