2nd July, 20203 min read

How to treat burns and scalds

Medical reviewer:
Healthily's medical team
Healthily's medical team
Tomas Duffin
Tomas Duffin
Last reviewed: 03/07/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Burns and scalds occur when your skin is damaged by heat. The majority of them occur at home or in the workplace.

Women and children are more affected in the home, with burns here often caused by boiling pots and pans of water or open flames in the kitchen, while men are more affected in the workplace due to fire, electricity and chemicals.

When to see a doctor for a burn

You should go to hospital immediately if you have a large or deep burn that’s bigger than your hand, regardless of the cause.

You should also seek medical attention if your burn was caused by any of the following:

  • electricity -- any electrical burn should be treated in hospital immediately
  • a corrosive substance -- any chemical burn (like acid) should be treated in hospital immediately. Try to find out the name of the chemical to tell the doctor
  • UV exposure -- any sunburn that causes your skin to blister or swell should be treated by a doctor immediately

Children under 5 and pregnant women are at greater risk from the effect of burns, and should also see a doctor following a burn.

What are the symptoms of a burn?

Burns and scalds can be painful and may cause red or peeling skin, swelling, blisters, or white or charred skin.

What’s the difference between a burn and a scald?

A burn is an injury to the skin caused by dry heat, like a hot pan, while a scald is caused by something wet, like boiling water. Both are treated the same way.

Taking painkillers for a burn

How should I treat a burn?

As soon as a burn happens, there are steps you should take to treat it as soon as possible.

Run it under water

You should move away from the source of the heat and cool the burn under running lukewarm or cold water for 20 minutes.

This will reduce any swelling or pain and reduce the risk of scarring -- and the faster you do this, the lower the impact of the burn.

Remove clothing and wrap the area in cling film

You should remove any clothing or jewellery that’s near the burnt skin, but not if it’s stuck to your skin, and cover the affected area of your skin with cling film or a clean plastic bag.

The plastic will keep air away from the burn, which will reduce the pain, while also not sticking to it.

Keep warm

Make sure you keep warm, such as by using a blanket, but prevent any material from touching your burn.

Take painkillers if needed

Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to treat any pain you’re experiencing.

If your burn is minor, you should continue to keep it clean and avoid bursting any blisters that form. If you’re concerned at all, you should see a doctor.

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