Burns are categorised in three ways. Depending on the severity and size of the wound, a burn will be described as minor, moderate or deep.

The extent of the wounds on a victim’s body is expressed as a percentage. As a general medical rule, 1% is equal to the size of the victim’s open palm, for example. If a child suffers from burns of more than 8% or an adult has burns of more than 12% of the body, that person has to be taken to hospital immediately.

The skin of a young child is particularly sensitive and even a burn from a cup of hot coffee can be deadly. One of the most common accidents is when a baby or toddler sitting on a mother’s lap pulls the tablecloth from under her hot drink and tips it over himself.

According to the Peter Hughes Burn Foundation (www.peterhughesburnfoundation.org.au), burns are responsible for 20 to 25 child deaths, 600 child admissions to hospital, and 6,000 child presentations to emergency centres in Australia every year. In addition, close to 1,200 Australian children under the age of five end up in hospital emergency rooms every year for the treatment of scalds.

Let’s take a look at minor, moderate and deep burns, and how they should be treated:

1.) Minor and moderate burns

Minor burns damage the outer layer of the skin – the epidermis – and moderate burns damage outer and inner skin layers.

How it happens

These burns typically occur when your hand touches a hot saucepan or if you spend too much time in the sun. Hot liquids such as boiling water and substances such as hot coals can cause moderate burns.


There is swelling, redness and pain. If you press the burnt area with your finger it will turn white and when you remove your finger it will turn red again. Blisters form on a moderate burn.


    • Hold the burnt area under cool running water for at least 10 minutes. In the case of a facial burn, rinse the face with cold water.

    • Cover the burn with a dry gauze dressing and apply an antiseptic ointment. Change the gauze twice a day if the wound rubs against clothing.

    • Remove clothing and jewellery from the burnt area as soon as possible because swelling could occur later.


    • Apply ice or iced water to the wound as it could cause frostbite.

    • Apply butter, fat, oil, toothpaste, petroleum jelly, egg or shoe polish as these substances could damage the skin even more.

    • Try to remove clothing if it sticks to the skin.

    • Burst blisters – the fluid inside has healing properties.

When should you see a doctor?

If the burn is bigger than a standard milk-bottle top, visit a doctor so the wound can be treated for infection.

2.) Deep burns

In the case of a deep burn, all the layers of the skin are destroyed – and muscles, fat cells and even bone can be damaged too.

How it happens

Exposure to open flames, chemicals or electricity.


Deep burns look white, charred or black. The burnt area feels dry, leathery and hard.


    • Run cool water over the burnt area for at least 10 minutes.

    • Place a clean, dry dressing over the wound to reduce the loss of body heat. Use a sheet or any other clean, non-fluffy fabric.

    • In the case of facial burns, cover the wounds with sterile material. Cut holes for the nose, eyes and ears. In the case of burnt eyes, keep them covered.

    • Place wet gauze between burnt fingers and toes.


    • Touch the area.

    • Remove any clothing near or on the burn.

When should you see a doctor?

Immediately call 000 (the Australian national medical emergency number) or 112 from your mobile phone.

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