Burns FAQ

There are many questions that people have concerning burn first aid treatment. Below are some of the common questions and answers. If your question is not here, please contact us.

1. Why do I need to use cool running water for 20 minutes?
Our research has shown that cool, running water applied for 20 minutes will significantly improve the healing of burn wounds so that they heal faster and with less scarring. Twenty minutes seems like a long time, but scars last even longer.

2. Can I soak the burnt area in the water instead of flushing it – what if I don’t have enough water?
If you don’t have enough water you can cool the burn by soaking a small area (e.g. a hand or foot) in a container of water. If the burn area is large (e.g. on the chest or back), do not soak the entire person, this will increase the chances of them getting hypothermia. Instead wet some towels and apply these towels to the burnt area only.

3. When should I seek medical advice?
Seek medical attention for all children’s burns by calling the ambulance or going to the hospital. For burns on an adult, seek medical attention if the burn is larger than 3 cm diamter, if it is located on the hands, face or groin area, or if the burn appears white in colour (this means it is deep).

4. How should I treat a blister resulting from burns?
Do not pop the blister yourself, this can increase the risk of the wound getting infected. Instead, after “remove and cool”, cover the burn with a clean bandage.

5. What shouldn’t I put on a burn?
Do not put ice on a burn. Do not put household substances such as butter, oil, flour, toothpaste, sauce, onions or moisturizer on a burn. They do not help and can make things worse.

6. Are aloe gel and other kind of ointment helpful?
These ointments may decrease the pain of a burn, but they will not help the burn to heal. Cool running water will significantly improve the healing of the burn. Use cool running water first and if there is still pain, take pain-relieving medication (e.g. paracetamol). If your child tolerates paracetamol, please give it to them! After treating with cool water, apply clingwrap or a clean cloth, not other ointments.

7. What does cling wrap do?
Cling wrap protects the burn injury from infection and damage and excludes air which will make the burn less painful. It is clear, so doctors can see through it straight away without having to clean anything off. Cling wrap should be applied loosely so that it doesn’t cut off blood circulation and never applied to the face.

8. Why shouldn’t I use ice or an ice pack?
Ice will not improve burn wound healing, whereas cool running water will. Ice may even cause a cold burn if used inappropriately. Use cool running water instead.

9. What can I do if my children are in a lot of pain?
If your child tolerates paracetamol, please give it to them to relieve their pain. If the paracetamol is not relieving their pain, make sure you seek medical attention (call the ambulance or go to hospital).

10. What should I do if there is no running water around?
If you have access to any water, wet a clean towel and apply this to the burn area. This will be sufficient if you can get to a tap within the next couple of hours. Within 3 hours, cool the burn under running water for 20 minutes. If the burn area is large, deep or in a delicate area, seek medical attention immediately.

11. Is sea water or dam water okay? Or a bucket of water?
If you have no other running water available, immerse the burn area only in sea water or dam water or a bucket of water for 20 minutes. It may feel better if you can move the affected area through the water to simulate moving water. But 20 minutes of cool running water is always the best option.

12. If my child feels cold while flushing with water, should I stop?
Yes. If the patient is shivering, and they look cold (e.g. pale lips and fingers), stop immediately.

13. If the hospital is next to my house, can I go to emergency immediately?
Go to emergency AFTER you have applied cool running water for 20 minutes. At the hospital they may not be able to attend to you straight away, so it is a good idea to apply first aid treatment before you go.