How can I treat burns?

Scuba Diving - - Special Promotional Advertising - BY DIVERS ALERT NET­WORK

Burns are un­pleas­ant in­juries, and they can oc­cur in var­i­ous ways in diving set­tings. Burns from sun ex­po­sure, ac­ci­dents in the gal­ley, camp­fire mishaps and many other sources plague divers ev­ery year. The re­sult­ing wounds can be ex­tremely painful, dis­fig­ur­ing and even life-threat­en­ing. Be­cause burns can hap­pen any­where — in­clud­ing re­mote lo­ca­tions — they are some­thing that all divers should know how to prop­erly treat.

Burns can be life-threat­en­ing, so it’s im­por­tant that first re­spon­ders re­mem­ber the fun­da­men­tals of ba­sic life sup­port. Although an in­di­vid­ual’s

pain and dis­tress might be se­vere, the pri­or­i­ties re­main the same as in any emer­gency: Make sure the scene of the ac­ci­dent is safe be­fore you en­ter it, then ad­dress the in­jured per­son’s cir­cu­la­tion, air­way and breath­ing ( in that or­der). If a per­son is still on fire when you en­ter the scene, en­cour­age them to stop, drop and roll as you at­tempt to smother or douse the flames from a safe dis­tance. Your pri­or­ity in this sit­u­a­tion is to keep your­self safe, then treat the burned in­di­vid­ual.

Be­cause of the haz­ards posed by smoke in­hala­tion and ex­po­sure to in­tense heat of sen­si­tive air­way tis­sue, cir­cu­la­tion,


air­way and breath­ing war­rant spe­cial con­cern. Air­way swelling and tis­sue dam­age from smoke in­hala­tion can im­pair breath­ing, and fluid loss due to burns can lead to shock. When as­sess­ing air­way and breath­ing in a burn vic­tim, note any cough­ing or wheez­ing and the pres­ence of soot, ash or red­ness around the nose and mouth. These might pro­vide ev­i­dence of the sever­ity of an in­jury and im­prove a res­cuer’s un­der­stand­ing of any res­pi­ra­tory symp­toms that might be present.

Burns oc­cur when a body’s tis­sues are sub­jected to more en­ergy than they can tol­er­ate. This en­ergy can come from heat, chem­i­cals, elec­tric­ity or ra­di­a­tion.

Ther­mal burns are the re­sult of con­tact with flames or hot ob­jects like stove-tops or steam. These are straight­for­ward to di­ag­nose and treat, and most peo­ple have some ex­pe­ri­ence with them.

Chem­i­cal burns are the re­sult of con­tact with caus­tic chem­i­cals and can be es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult to con­tend with. If the chem­i­cal is dry, as­sist the vic­tim in brush­ing off the sub­stance and con­sult a Ma­te­rial Safety Data Sheet when­ever pos­si­ble. If an MSDS sheet is not avail­able, flush with co­pi­ous amounts of wa­ter and treat the wound as you nor­mally would.

Elec­tri­cal burns can re­sult from sev­eral dif­fer­ent sources on the wa­ter, in­clud­ing light­ning and poorly main­tained elec­tri­cal sys­tems on boats. Mi­nor elec­tri­cal burns can be treated like any other mi­nor burn. When at­tempt­ing to help vic­tims with elec­tri­cal burns, it is vi­tal to iden­tify the source and, if pos­si­ble, turn off the power be­fore giv­ing care to avoid be­com­ing an­other vic­tim.

Ra­di­a­tion burns rep­re­sent the great­est num­ber of in­juries — ex­po­sure to the sun burns more out­door en­thu­si­asts than all other sources com­bined. These burns can be tricky to pre­vent and dif­fi­cult to iden­tify, but they can be treated the same as any other burn once the vic­tim is re­moved from the source of the in­jury.


Af­ter en­sur­ing that the scene of an ac­ci­dent is safe and ad­dress­ing ba­sic life-sup­port con­cerns, res­cuers should im­me­di­ately douse a burn with cool wa­ter. For ma­jor burns, ac­ti­vate EMS or ini­ti­ate trans­porta­tion to ad­vanced med­i­cal care. Soak­ing or dous­ing

should con­tinue for at least 15 to 30 min­utes, or un­til EMS ar­rives, to stop the burn­ing process in deeper tis­sues. Do not sub­merge vic­tims with large burns be­cause this in­tro­duces a drown­ing haz­ard, and burn vic­tims are at el­e­vated risk of hy­pother­mia. Re­move any cloth­ing or jewelry sur­round­ing the wound that could be re­stric­tive once swelling sets in. Con­tinue to mon­i­tor un­til ad­vanced med­i­cal per­son­nel in­ter­vene.

Proper first aid for burns mat­ters; it can en­hance a per­son’s com­fort or even save a life. To learn more on how to eval­u­ate and treat burns, ask your lo­cal dive pro­fes­sional about a DAN first-aid course. For more on dive safety and ed­u­ca­tion, visit

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