4 simple ways to prevent burns and scalds

4 simple ways to prevent burns and scalds

About 126,000 children visit emergency departments due to fire and burn injuries every year. Le Bonheur Emergency Medicine physician, Dr. Rudy Kink, and Susan Helms, R.N., M.A.L.S., Injury Prevention and Safe Kids Mid-South director, offer tips and advice to keep kids safe.
Child trying to take pan off of stove

Among young children, scalds caused by hot liquids or steam are the most common types of burn-related injuries. Parents and caregivers can take simple precautions such as adjusting the water heater and using the kitchen stove's back burner, whenever possible, to prevent accidental injuries.

At Le Bonheur, most accidental scald burns occur in young children during food preparation. Semisolid and grease burns are the most common and are also associated with the most serious burns that often require extensive care in acute and long-term settings. The emergency department also sees several patients each year for burns that happen while cooking Ramen noodles.

A typical scenario for this to occur involves someone heating the dish in the microwave, reaching to take the bowl out, discovering it’s too hot, and spilling the liquid on themselves or a child nearby.

Safe Kids Mid-South recommends the following four tips to prevent scalds:

  1. Adjust your water heater. To prevent accidental scalding, set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or the manufacturer’s recommended setting.
  2. Don’t carry or hold a child while cooking or microwaving.  Instead, place children in a high chair a safe distance away from any hot liquids, hot surface, or other hazards in the kitchen.
  3. Use the back burners. Kids love to reach, so to prevent hot food or liquid spills in the kitchen, simply use the back burner of your stove and turn pot handles away from the stove edge. Keep hot foods away from the edge of your counters.
  4. Place matches, gasoline and lighters in a safe place, out of children’s reach. Avoid using novelty lighters or lighters that look like toys.

Types of burns

Identifying the type and severity of burn can help you know when to treat at home and when to visit the ER.

First-degree burns: Shallow burns limited to the top layer of skin (redness, pain and minor swelling; no blistering)

Second-degree burns: Involves the top layer of skin and the layer beneath it (site appears red, blistered and may be swollen and painful)

Third- or fourth-degree burns: Involves all layers of skin and nerve endings (site can be dry and looks white, waxy, leathery, brown or charred)

Seek medical help if:

  • The burn is second degree or higher
  • The burned area is more than 2 or 3 inches wide
  • The burn comes from a fire, electrical wire/socket, chemicals
  • The burn is on the face, hands, scalp, genitals or skin over a joint
  • The burn looks infected (puss, swelling, increased redness, or red streaking)

How to treat superficial burns:

  • Take clothing off burned area
  • Run cool (not cold) water over area, or apply clean, cold compress over area for 3-5 minutes (do not use ice)
  • Apply aloe gel or cream to the area a few times per day
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain
  • Protect area by covering with clean gauze pad or bandage (except for very young children, as bandages can be a choking hazard)

To learn more, visit http://www.ameriburn.org.

Want to learn more about Emergency Medicine at Le Bonheur?

Emergency Medicine

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Call 1-866-870-5570.

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