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Burns are very common and while always painful, not all burns require a visit to a hospital's Emergency Department (ED). The same goes for sore eyes, another non-urgent condition that a General Practitioner (GP) can easily treat.


Burns and sore eyes can often be treated at home or by your family doctor at the nearest GP clinic without the need to go to the emergency department. In this regular issue, we share tips and advice on these two conditions.


Burns and Scalds

Burns and scalds are thermal injuries commonly caused by exposure to hot liquids or surfaces. On rare occasions, it can be due to contact with chemical substances or electrical injury. The burnt skin is red, painful and may develop blisters.


"Most burns are minor and do not involve large body surface areas. These do not require a visit to the ED, and can be treated by your GP," says Dr Koh Shao Hui, Consultant, Department of Emergency Medicine, SKH and Clinical Lead for GPFirst.


For example, a GP can quickly treat a patient whose arms have been scalded by hot soup. The GP will examine the burns and apply a dressing over the affected areas. To treat the pain, he may prescribe painkillers and arrange for a follow-up appointment to review the burnt skin.


Burns are categorised into levels of severity. First-degree burns are superficial and minor, while second-degree is characterised by blistering.


"If blisters develop, it means the injury has gone into a deeper skin layer. Small areas of blistered skin can be treated at home, and new skin will grow over the raw skin with time."


Small burn wounds generally recover without becoming infected. However, if it involves broken skin that has been exposed to contaminated environments, such as soil, the GP may give a tetanus vaccination to avoid risking an infection.


Dr Koh adds that the hospital normally deals with more severe, or third-degree burns, like those caused by chemicals, electricity or lightning; or when the burns cover a large area of the body or are on the face, mouth, throat or genital area.


How to treat at home

• Cool the skin and reduce swelling by running cool water over the burn for 20 minutes.

• Loosely cover the burn with cling wrap or a sterile non-adherent dressing.

• Treat the pain with painkillers.

• Do not apply any toothpaste, butter or greasy substances.

• If there is a blister, do not burst it as this increases the risk of getting an infection.


When to visit the ED

• You have burns on the face, mouth, eyes, hands, feet, genital area or joints.

• Burns and blistering that are large (bigger than your hand).

• Burns caused by chemicals.

• Burns caused by electricity or lightning.

• Third-degree burns (where burnt skin is white, charred or leathery).


Sore Eyes

Sore eyes (red eyes) are commonly caused by dryness, viruses or bacterial infection or allergies. Usually the eyes will be red and watery. It can also be slightly painful and itchy, sometimes with discharge, which can indicate conjunctivitis.


Sore eyes – the common term for conjunctivitis – refer to the inflammation of the conjunctiva which is the outer lining covering the front of the eye.


Dr Koh says that eye redness associated with itchiness, tearing and nasal discharge is usually part of an allergic reaction, which is largely self-recovering and can be treated easily by a GP.


"The symptoms can be treated with oral antihistamines purchased over the counter or the GP can give topical eye drops to help treat dry eyes." He also stresses the importance of washing one's hands frequently with soap and water, and to avoid rubbing the eyes and not to wear contact lenses or eye make-up until the symptoms clear up.


How to treat at home

• Apply over-the-counter lubricating eye drops.

• Take oral antihistamines if itchiness is present.

• Avoid rubbing your eyes.

• Avoid wearing contact lenses or eye make-up until your condition improves.

• Do not share towels or pillows.


When to visit the ED

• You experience one-sided headache, blurring of vision or pain in the eye.

• If there was direct injury to the eyes.

• If the condition was caused by chemicals.

• You are wearing contact lenses as this might signify a more serious case of eye redness.


Know what other conditions are easily treated by a GP?  Read here.


Your GP is the first medical professional you should contact when you have a non-emergency medical condition. Under the GPFirst scheme, you will receive a $50 subsidy on the hospital's emergency attendance fee if your participating GP refers you to the SKH Emergency Department (ED) after assessing your condition. Visiting the GP not only allows you to receive timely medical treatment closer to home, you will also help to save lives by freeing up the ED for more urgent, life-threatening cases.