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First Aid of Burns

September 21st, 2018


This is essential information for all members of the community

from the RACGP QLD  Newsletter

Water cooling treatment for burns


The most important take-home messages from the article:

  • Water cooling for 20 minutes within three hours of any type of burn provides the most benefit
  • This was shown to reduce:
    • the risk of admission to the intensive care unit by 48%
    • the number of days in hospital by 18%
    • the need of a skin graft by 13%
    • cooling for less time was not as beneficial; cooling for longer than 40 minutes appeared to cause harm.
  • Water temperature guidelines:
    • The water temperature should be running tap water between 8–15ºC
    • The ideal water temperature is 15ºC
    • The water temperature range must be within 8–25ºC.

Note: We tested the temperature of a cold water tap on a warm day to find it not within the ideal range (26ºC); this is likely to be common in most parts of Queensland during the warmer months.

Current practice

While most burn patients receive water cooling first aid, less than half of them receive the ideal water cooling duration as defined above and within the guidelines. Water cooling is used in a more haphazard way than recommended.

Implementation of better practice

Changing practice to water cooling for a duration of 20 minutes would lead to better outcomes according to evidence. Ensuring the ideal water temperature may also bring added benefits.


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