Nurse Grainne McCarthy's Burn Guide

Burns can be a regular occurrence and identifying the moment when they become a significant injury is sometimes difficult. Most burns can be effectively treated by following the advice below:

  • Soothe the burnt area with running cool water for 20 minutes (ensure its not too cold)
  • Apply cling film in layers over the burn (do not wrap around limb as the area may swell) and take pain killers

You should go to hospital if:

  • The burn is bigger than the size of your hand
  • The burn is deeper than a superficial burn (see below)
  • You have trouble breathing
  • Your burn was electrical or from a chemical
  • The pain is unmanageable
  • The burn is on the face, hands, feet, genitals, or buttocks
  • The burn encircles a limb
  • You have any concerns about tetanus (painful muscle spasms and muscle stiffness)

Superficial or mild burns can be managed at home. These can be left uncovered. If you have further concerns or would like more information you can speak to a babylon doctor.

Superficial burns:

These are when only the top layer of skin is affected. The skin will be pink or red and you will experience mild pain. Some causes of this can include the sun or mild burns from tepid to hot drinks. If this type of burn is in a small area you should run the affected area under a cold tap for up to 20 minutes. This type of burn can also be left to the open air and do not need to be covered. The skin may peel after a few days but the skin underneath will be healthy.


Partial thickness burns:

Are when you burn two layers of the skin, the dermis and the epidermis. This type of burn can cause blisters and can be very painful. As always run the burn under a cold tap (not freezing as this can cause further damage), cover the burn if possible with cling film but before doing that try to remove the clothing or jewellery you have near the burnt area. Despite the burn being a deep burn they usually heal well and do not always scar. This type of burn needs to be assessed by a doctor as a matter of urgency and you can do this by visiting your local emergency department.

Full thickness burns:

Cause damage to all layers of skin. This type of burn does not normally blister, but as it’s so deep the flesh underneath can become white, brown or black while remaining dry. There may be little or no pain due to the nerve endings being destroyed. These usually require a skin graft to repair and will most definitely need in-hospital treatment no matter the size of the burn. Please attend your local A&E immediately if you have a full thickness burn.


Electrical burns:

Electrical burns caused by an electric shock may cause serious damage to the inside of the body as well as occasionally burning the surface of the skin. If you have suffered an electric shock, regardless as to whether or not it has caused a visible burn, you must go straight to your local A&E.


Chemical burns:

Can be caused by a number of substances, including acids, bleach and cement. Usually you are aware of the burn immediately but sometimes the redness and pain may develop some hours after contact with the chemical. It is important that you stop any continued contact with the chemical, and this means removing any clothing that has the chemical on it. Following this, you should place the affected area of skin under cool running water for at least 20 minutes. If this means standing in the shower, then stand under a shower.


Remember, you should go to hospital if:

  • There are blisters
  • The burn is bigger than the size of your hand
  • The pain is unmanageable
  • Your burn involves the face, hands, feet, genitals, or buttocks
  • The burn is encircling a limb
  • You have any concerns about muscle spasms

If you are unsure about what to do and you don’t think an emergency hospital visit is called for, babylon doctors are available in minutes between 8am and 8pm 7 days a week.