Do you know the correct first-aid in the event of a burn?

Kieran was just five when his pyjamas caught fire.
Kieran was just five when his pyjamas caught fire.  Photo: Supplied

Knowing the correct first-aid can make a huge difference to the long-term recovery of a childhood burns victim, according to experts who are urging parents and carers to know what to do if a child suffers a burn.

Dr Warwick Teague, Director of Trauma at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, says first-aid is critical to ensuring the best possible outcome for a childhood burns victim.

"Knowing the correct first-aid measures can make a significant difference in the child's rehabilitation and long-term outcome of the burn injury," he says.

"If a burn happens, it's critical that cool running water is applied to the burn area for a minimum of 20 minutes."

The hospital's burns unit has joined forces with Kidsafe to raise awareness about burns prevention and the correct first-aid.

Figures from the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand (BRANZ) showed almost 1000 children from Australia and New Zealand were admitted to hospital burns units during the 2016-17 financial year.

Scalds were the most common cause of burns in children (57 per cent), according to the BRANZ figures, followed by contact (23 per cent) and flame (10 per cent).

Many more children suffer burns requiring treatment outside a burns unit.

Almost 80 per cent of childhood burns occur in the home, with the kitchen the most common place of injury, according to Kidsafe.

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Kieran was helping his mum make porridge on a gas stove in the family home in Warrnambool, Victoria, in September last year when his pyjamas caught alight.

"He leant too close to the flames and his pyjamas caught on fire," his mother Tania recalls in a video produced by the hospital's burns unit to support an educational event.

Kieran panicked and ran, fanning the flames, before Tania sprang into action and in Kieran's words "threw me on the ground. Drop, stop, roll".

"I caught him and grabbed him and put the flames out and then put him in the cold shower," she says.

"It's really easy to say 'Put [a burn] under cold water'," says Tania, before explaining how difficult that is "when you have a child that is screaming and you can't even hear the triple-0 caller … because they are screaming so much because they don't want to be in this freezing cold shower.

"But it pays off when … you get to the hospital and the nurse turns to the doctor and says 'Should we put him under a cold bath for 10 minutes?' and the doctor says 'Mum has done enough cooling'.

"I am so glad I persevered with that screaming and pushed him in that shower and got in there with him."

Paramedics took Kieran to Warrnambool Hospital before he was flown by air ambulance to the Royal Children's Hospital where the burns unit staff were waiting.

The dead skin was wiped away before doctors dressed the wound.

They initially decided to wait a week to see how his burn healed, but two weeks later, after another check-up, doctors decided Kieran would need a skin graft.

Kieran says the doctors took healthy skin from his leg, which they grafted to his burn. The operation was a success and he was able to go home the next day.

He returned to hospital twice to have the dressing changed, before attention turned to managing the scar

"The first therapy was to just to get some sensation back into the burn zone," says his mother.

"At first he didn't like it at all. He hated the feeling of anything touching it."

Kieran, now six, must wear a pressure garment for at least another three to six months. He says has to wear it "to make my burn flat, because it is tight".

"He wears the garment 23 hours a day. We take it off twice a day for moisturising with Sorbolene and it goes back on again," Tania says.

Kieran returns to the burns unit every three to six months for a check-up with the burns team, which includes surgeons, specialist nurses, physiotherapists, play therapists and clown doctors.

His burn will be monitored regularly until he reaches his full height and will he need follow-up treatment, especially physiotherapy, at least until then.

Dr Teague says there is no doubt that Kieran's recovery was aided by his mother's swift action, namely "the Stop, Drop and Roll, and the shower time".

But he says burns can have a long-term impact on children, with the mental scars often taking longer to heal than the physical.

"Burn injuries really do have a long-lasting effect on the whole family, so we need to do everything we can to prevent these from occurring," he says.

Kidsafe Australia spokeswoman Holly Fitzgerald says half of all childhood burn injuries occur in the kitchen and the majority are preventable.

"The kitchen is the most dangerous room of the house for a young child to be burned, usually occurring whilst near an adult preparing food or hot drinks," she says.

"We need to be vigilant and take steps to restrict our children's access to the kitchen during meal preparation times, to reduce the risk of a serious burn or scald occurring.

"At Kidsafe, we recommend placing hot drinks safely away from table or bench edges and never holding a child with a hot drink in hand.

"Hot liquid at 60 degrees Celsius takes one second to cause a third-degree burn to a child's skin."

Kidsafe suggests taking the following steps in the case of a burn:

  • Remove yourself and the victim from danger
  • Remove any clothing and jewellery from the burn area unless stuck to the skin
  • Cool the burn by placing the affected area under cool, running water for 20 minutes. You can treat the burn with a hydrogel such as Burnaid if available
  • Never place items such as ice, oil or butter on a burn
  • Cover the burn with a clean dressing
  • Seek medical attention if the burn or scald is on the face, hands, feet, genitals or buttocks, or if it is larger than a 20c coin, or if blisters occur.

You can print up a step-by-step first-aid guide for treating minor burns here: http://kidsafe.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/NABM-POSTER-2018-v4.pdf