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Video – Burns: The Practical Stuff

Uploaded to YouTube in April 2019; Filmed 2018

Content warning: This video may contain sensitive content.

This video demonstrates the assessment and management of burns, using equipment that is recommended within the locality at the time of production. Remember to check your local, current guidelines before putting anything into practice. Produced by HCPs and students.

This video demonstrates use of burn gel wraps, which may no longer be used in your ambulance Trust. Please check your local guidelines regarding this. According to the British Burn Association:

Burn gel wraps may be used to provide analgesia, but only after adequate cooling has
occurred as they do not actively remove heat from the wound

Varley et al (2014)

Remember to follow good IPC in real life.

The transcript below has been slightly edited, with titles added, to make it easier to read.

Further recommended reading: The British Burn Association First Aid Clinical Practice Guidelines


You must read the full disclaimer at and check your local guidelines before putting into practice any of our content.

BURNS: The practical stuff

This video contains content some might find sensitive.


With all assessments and interventions, use an aseptic technique, especially because ‘burns are prone to infection’

Purcell, 2003: 217


The patient’s airway might worsen. Here’s why:

‘A burned patient may have a patent airway on the initial evaluation. […] In the time that follows, the face, as well as the airway, will likely swell.’

NAEMT, 2016: 411

… So, consider HEMS for RSI.


The patient’s breathing might worsen. Here’s why:

Is there a chest wall burn?

‘Burns constrict the chest wall similarly to having several leather belts progressively tightening around the patient’s chest. As time progresses, the patient cannot move the chest wall to breathe.’

NAEMT, 2016: 412

So, consider HEMS and ventilatory support where needed.

Other considerations:

Inhaled toxins ‘can produce asphyxiation’

NAEMT, 2016: 412

– LOC in a fire with ‘heavy smoke’
– trapped patient in a fire
consider O2

El-Helbawy & Ghareeb, 2011


Swelling might get worse. Here’s what to do about it:

‘Distal limb perfusion may be critically reduced’; ‘Burned extremities should be elevated during transport to reduce the degree of swelling in the affected limb’

NAEMT, 2016: 412

A complication of swelling:

Fluid loss occurs from swelling and evaporation

NAEMT, 2016: 416

Giving Fluids – Pros and Cons

Consider IV fluids, especially if the burn is >10% of the body (AACE, 2016: 265-266). Keep watching for info on how to determine this.

Give fluids with caution. Too much -> ‘cardiac failure, […] infectious complications, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and even death’.

Too little -> ‘hypovolemic shock, organ failure’

(NICE, 2016)

Judicious fluid management of children with severe burn injury can improve the respiratory outcome measures of these children

Duran and Sheridan, 2016

Cannulating – Essentials

When cannulating, ‘placement through the burn is appropriate [only] if no alternative sites are available’

NAEMT, 2016: 412

What about heat?

Patients with burns are not able to maintain their own body heat

NAEMT, 2016: 413

…So, give blankets


ECGs are required for electrical burns (AACE, 2016: 265) but consider them for all burns as ‘cardiac dysrhythmias’ result from the release of ‘muscle potassium’ (NAEMT, 2016: 418) and studies have shown disturbances in the cardiac functions of in-hospital burn patients (Jeschke et al, 2008).


Do your BMs

Hyperglycemia may occur in burns patients and has a higher risk of ‘morbidity and mortality in critically ill patients’ (Wolfe et al, 1979; Mecott et al, 2010).

Pain management in children

In children, ‘a multi-modal approach to pain and sedation can improve the neurological status of severely burned children’

Duran and Sheridan, 2016


Cooling the burn:

Cool with a wet compress

Purcell, 2003: 217

‘Cooling gels such as Burnshield are often used by paramedics. These are useful in cooling the burn and relieving pain in the initial stages.’ *

Be aware of the risk of ‘heat loss’

Hudspith and Rayatt, 2004

*This guidance is changing. Check your local guidance first, and consider the use of cling-film after running water.

Documentation during examination:

Assess and document:

‘Burn depth & features’ (Purcell, 2003: 217)

Other considerations:

Anticipate Swelling. Take off jewelry. Be aware that these and clothing ‘retain residual heat’ (NAEMT, 2016: 413).

Cooling – more details

Irrigate early to cool and prevent further burning.

Chemical burns: 15 mins min (AACE, 2016: 265)

All burns: Max 20 mins (AACE, 2016: 266)

This is most effective ‘within 20 minutes of the injury’ (Hudspith and Rayatt, 2004).

Don’t use ice cold water as ‘intense vasoconstriction can cause burn progression’ (Hudspith and Rayatt, 2004).

When using cling film

Discard ‘the first few centimetres’ to be aseptic

‘lay this on the wound rather than wrapping the burn’ to anticipate swelling

(Hudspith and Rayatt, 2004)

Consider using wet dressings instead in chemical burns (Allison and Porter, 2004)

Estimating total burns

Consider the use of tools to estimate the total body percentage of the burns (NICE, 2016; Mersey Burns, 2013).


Using those tools [such as Mersey Burns] will help determine the right treatment centre for the patient and the treatment priority.

Time critical features:

  • major abcd problems
  • airway burns
  • history of hot air or gas inhalation
  • respiratory distress
  • burns that completely encircle the chest, neck, or limb
  • significant facial burns
  • burns >10% total body area
  • ‘presence of other major injuries’

(AACE, 2016: 266)


Association of Chief Ambulance Executives (AACE), 2016. UK Ambulance Services Clinical Practice Guidelines. Bridgwater: Class Professional Publishing

Allison, K. and Porter, K. 2004. Consensus on the prehospital approach to pain management. Emergency Medicine Journal. 21 (1), pp. 112-114

Duran, C. and Sheridan, R.L. 2016. Current Concepts in the Medical Management of the Pediatric Burn Patient. Current Trauma Reports. 2 (4), pp. 202-209

El-Helbawy, R.H. and Ghareeb, F.M. 2011. Inhalation injury as a prognostic factor for mortality in burns patients. Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters. 24 (2), pp.82-88

Hudspith, J. and Rayatt, S. 2004. First aid and treatment of minor burns. BMJ. 328 (7454), pp. 1487-1489

Jeschke, M.G. et al. 2008. Pathophysiologic response to severe burn injury. Anals of surgery. 126, pp. 37-51

National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT). 2016. PHTLS. Prehospital Trauma Life Support, 8th Edition. Burlington: Jones and Bartlett Learning.

NICE, 2016. Mersey Burns for calculating fluid resuscitation volume when managing burns. Available at: (Accessed 06/04/19)

Purcell, D. 2003. Minor Injuries. A Clinical Guide. Edinburgh. Elsevier.

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, 2013. Mersey Burns. Available at: (Accessed 06/04/19)

*Stiles, K. and Goodwin, N. 2018. British Burn Association: First Aid Clinical Practice Guidelines. Available Online: (Accessed 29/03/21)

*Varley, A. et al. 2014. British Burn Association: First Aid Position Statement. Available Online: (Accessed 29/03/21)

Wolfe, R.R. et al. 1979. Glucose metabolism in severely burned patients. Metabolism. 28 (10), pp. 1031-1039

*Added to post 29/03/21


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