How can I treat burns?
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,
TYPES OF BURNS
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 dan.org.