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Want to know the ideal way to tackle a burn? Stick it under cold water for 20 MINUTES


Want to know the ideal way to tackle a burn? Stick it under cold water for 20 MINUTES, experts say

  • Specialists say people should keep their hands under cold water for 20 minutes
  • Leeds General Infirmary experts experimented on 30 pieces of donated tissue
  • Professor Hugh Wright says cold water prevents skin from becoming damaged  


It’s a mainstay of first aid advice for treating burns – run the affected skin under cold water. 

Now scientists have discovered precisely how long you need to do it for and why the remedy is so effective. 

According to research by leading skin specialists, 20 minutes is the optimum time spent under the tap. 

Doing so led to a 56 per cent reduction in the depth of the burn – which is how damage to the skin is measured. 

This time protocol is longer than that recommended by some NHS hospitals, which advise just ten minutes. 

Professor Hugh Wright, a consultant hand surgeon at Leeds General Infirmary who led the study, experimented on 30 pieces of tissue donated from patients who’d undergone breast reconstruction. 

According to research by leading skin specialists, 20 minutes is the optimum time spent under the tap for treating burns

According to research by leading skin specialists, 20 minutes is the optimum time spent under the tap for treating burns

HOW TO BEST TREAT A BURN 

– Remove clothing from around the burn

– Put it under running water for 20 minutes

– Do not use iced water

– Cover burn with clean, sterile, non-stick material

– If the burn is larger than a 20c piece, seek medical treatment 

The breast tissue was burned to the same severity as the skin of a hand touching a gas hob. 

This created so-called ‘mid-thickness burns’, where the damage penetrates only the upper layer of the skin. This is the most common form of burn. 

The tissue was then run under water cooled to 16 C – the average temperature of tap water – for different 20 minutes, and compared with burnt skin that had not been cooled. 

Prof Wright explains that the cooling effect interferes with the bodily process that triggers skin damage after a burn. 

When the skin is injured, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines which protect against infection in the wound. 

But often, too many cytokines are released in response to a burn, leading to prolonged inflammation in the area and increased damage to the tissue as a result. 

Prof Wright’s study, entitled Putting Out The Fire Of The Burn, argues that cooling the wound shuts off the release of cytokines, limiting the tissue damage. 

He said the findings, presented at the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons in December, show that, if more injured people run burns under cold water for 20 minutes, there would be fewer severe burns treated on the NHS every year. 

Roughly 250,000 Britons experience burn injuries every year, with 175,000 attending hospital for treatment, according to the National Institute For Health and Care Excellence. 

The most common type is a scald – caused by hot water or steam. Prof Wright said: ‘If we can teach people why it is so important to cool skin after a burn and how to go about it, we can save many people skin grafts, infections and ongoing burns treatment.’ 

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