How to Treat a Boiling Water Burn

By Gertrude Elizabeth Greene

Burns from boiling water, also known as scalds, cause the same damage to the body as other kinds of burns and therefore must be treated the same way. Understanding the different types and degrees of burns will help you give the proper first aid. Knowing how to treat burns is very important because they are so common. As of 2008, around 2.4 million burn injuries are reported annually, and 8,000 to 12,000 of those victims die. Knowing first aid will improve your outcome, even for minor burns.

Burn Basics

Determine the type of burn. There are three basic degrees of burn. First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of skin, causing the skin to be red and possibly swollen. Usually, but not always, there is pain. Second-degree burns occur when the the second layer of skin has been burned. These burns will hurt significantly, and blisters and swelling will appear. Third-degree burns occur when all layers of skin are burned through. This kind of burn causes permanent tissue damage to fat, muscle and even bone, and can be deadly. Call 911 immediately if this kind of burn occurs.

The degree of the burn is not the only important factor. If a first-degree burn affects large areas of a major joint, buttocks, feet, face, hands or groin, it is a major burn. If a second-degree burn affects an area 3 inches or more in diameter, it is also a major burn. All third-degree burns are major burns. If the burn is major, see the section below.

For minor burns, run cool water over the affected area. For first-degree burns, it should be enough to run the water for five minutes or until the victim feels no pain; for second-degree burns, keep the water running for 15 minutes or longer. Burns in some places might be difficult to hold underneath a sink; in these cases, place a wet washcloth soaked in ice water on the burn area. Do not use ice directly, because this could cause frostbite.

Apply a burn gel to the burn, if desired. Topical burn gels are designed specifically to prevent infection and relieve pain. Avoid using other ointments or butter on the burn.

Wrap the burn area loosely with sterile gauze. If the burn is second-degree, do not break the blisters, because this could result in an infection.

Take a pain reliever such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen if needed for the pain or swelling.

Severe Burns

Obtain emergency medical assistance immediately.

Avoid removing burnt clothing, applying any oil-based creams or ointments, or running cold water on large burn areas. All of these can be detrimental to healing.

Cover the affected area with sterile moist bandages, towels or sheets. Separate any burned fingers or toes and cover them with sterile gauze.

Elevate the burned body parts. Unless the burn is on the head, neck, leg or back, place the victim on his back and elevate his feet to prevent shock. Be sure to not use a pillow under the victim's head.

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