Burns and scalds 

Introduction 

Burns and scalds can be very painful and can cause blisters to form on the skin 

Further advice

If you need advice about a burn or scald, you can:

Use the services directory to find minor injury units and walk-in centres near you.

Burns and scalds are damage to the skin caused by heat. Both are treated in the same way.

A burn is caused by dry heat. This can be caused by an iron or fire, for example. A scald is caused by something wet, such as hot water or steam.

Burns can be very painful and can cause blisters and charred, black or red skin.

Read more about the symptoms of burns and scalds, including the different types of burn.

Treating burns and scalds

To treat a burn, follow the first aid advice below:

  • immediately get the person away from the heat source to stop the burning
  • cool the burn with cool or lukewarm water for 10 to 30 minutes – do not use ice, iced water or any creams or greasy substances such as butter
  • remove any clothing or jewellery that is near the burnt area of skin, but do not move anything that is stuck to the skin
  • make sure the person keeps warm – for example by using a blanket – but take care not to rub it against the burnt area
  • cover the burn by placing a layer of cling film over it
  • use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to treat any pain

The British Red Cross website has a video about first aid for burns.

Read more about treating burns and scalds.

When to get medical attention

Depending on how serious a burn is, it may be possible to treat it at home. For minor burns, keep the burn clean and do not burst any blisters that form.

More serious burns will require professional medical attention. You should go to a hospital A&E department for:

  • all chemical and electrical burns
  • large or deep burns – any burn bigger than your hand
  • full thickness burns of all sizes – these burns cause white or charred skin
  • partial thickness burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals – these are burns that cause blisters

If someone has breathed in smoke or fumes, they should also seek medical attention. Some symptoms may be delayed and can include coughing, a sore throat, difficulty breathing or facial burns.

People who are at greater risk from the effects of burns, such as children under five years old and pregnant women, should also get medical attention after a burn or scald.

The size and depth of the burn will be assessed and the affected area cleaned before a dressing is applied. In severe cases, skin graft surgery may be recommended.

Read more about recovering from burns and scalds and the complications of burns and scalds.

Preventing burns and scalds

Many severe burns and scalds affect babies and young children. Examples of things you can do to help reduce the chances of your child having a serious accident at home include:

  • keeping your child out of the kitchen whenever possible
  • testing the temperature of bath water using your elbow before you put your baby or toddler in the bath
  • keeping matches, lighters and lit candles out of young children's sight and reach
  • keeping hot drinks well away from young children

Read more about preventing burns and scalds.

Page last reviewed: 03/12/2013

Next review due: 03/12/2015

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