What is the difference between a burn and a scald, and how do you know if it is serious or easily manageable at home?

Burns are any damage to the tissue of your body caused by heat, such as too much sun, chemicals, and even electricity. Scalds are usually caused by hot water or steam.

Both burns and scalds can range from both minor injuries to life threatening emergencies, depending on size and depth of the wounds. If the burn/scald is severe and/or involves the airway, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. For burns/scalds larger than a 20 cent piece and/or deep, seek medical aid.

Sonder’s team of trained nurses and medical professionals are always available to help you whenever you need advice on what to do, whether it’s a burn and/or scalding incident or any other injury, so you’ll never have to worry. Please take a photo of the injury and send it through to our Sonder nurses to review so that they can help you. If you need further assistance, here’s a guide on what to look out for and what you need to do.

Signs and symptoms

There are three levels of severity when it comes to burns and scalds: Superficial burns, deep burns, and full thickness burns. The signs and symptoms for each burn severity level differs and it’s important to recognise how severe the burn is when applying medical aid.

Superficial burns - The affected area is:

  • Red

  • Very painful

  • Blistered.

Deep burns - The affected area is:

  • Mottled red and white

  • Dark red or pale yellow

  • Painful

  • Blistered.

Full thickness burns - The affected area is:

  • Is white or charred

  • Feels dry and leathery.

  • Less pain than superficial burns - This is because the nerves are destroyed.

First aid for burns and scalds

Do’s

  • Immediately immerse the burnt area in cool water or by applying clothes soaked in cool water.

  • Remove jewelry & constrictive clothing before swelling or blisters occur

  • Cover the area with a dry, sterile dressing and not cotton or other fluffy material

  • Drop, Cover & Roll if caught fire or cover the person with a blanket immediately

Don’ts

  • Don’t place a burn under extreme water pressure

  • Don’t remove the cloth that is stuck to the burnt area

  • Don’t apply butter ointment, oil, ice to the affected area

What to do

We’ll cover two potential scenarios here: If the patient’s clothing is on fire, and all other burns and scalds.

If the patient is on fire:

  1. Stop the patient from moving around.

  2. Drop the patient to the ground and cover or wrap them in a blanket or similar, if available.

  3. Roll the patient along the ground until the flames are extinguished.

  4. Manage the burn.

  5. If the burn is severe, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance

For all other burns:

Follow DRSABCD - the DRSABCD Action Plan is the first step in providing first aid and stands for Danger > Response > Send for help > Airway > Breathing > CPR > Defibrillation

  1. If the burn is severe or if it involves the airway, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

  2. As soon as possible, hold the burnt area under cool running water for 20 minutes.

  3. Remove any clothing and jewellery from the burnt area, unless they are stuck to the burn.

  4. Cover the burn with a light, loose non-stick dressing, preferably clean, dry, non-fluffy material (eg plastic cling film).

  5. Continue to check the patient for shock, and treat if necessary.

Please note that a ‘cold’ burn is actually tissue damage from extreme cold, and accordingly treatment is different from other burns. See the fact sheet on frostbite.


If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from St John Ambulance Australia.

Image credit: St John Ambulance

All content in Sonder's Help Centre is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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