Prevent Burns in Your Home

Thursday, September 08, 2005

While your home may be a place of solace for you and your family, it’s also where most burn injuries tend to occur. The most common sources of home burns include hot liquids, flames on gas stoves, hot appliances, outdoor barbecues and fire pits, and other sources.

In the fall, many severe burns also occur when people improperly add liquid fuel to burning leaves and brush. The flames shoot up and ignite the person’s clothing.

Simple safety measures can help to prevent burn injuries in and around your home. These include:

1. If you smoke, make matches and lighters and other smoking materials as difficult for your children to obtain in your house as you would for a gun. Children will experiment with matches and lighters in an attempt to imitate their parents’ behavior. More often than not, the result is a burn injury. Also, do not smoke in bed.

2. Set your water heater at 120°F or lower. Many water heaters are too hot (160-180°F), resulting in scalding burns, especially to young children and older adults who may not be able to move out of the hot water fast enough.

3. Recognize that little hands work fast. Never hold a child while smoking or drinking a hot liquid; a sudden movement by the child could cause a burn. Never leave hot foods or liquids within reach of children, or leave hot liquids on a tablecloth that a child can pull down. A small spill of a hot liquid can burn a lot of skin on a small child.

4. When cooking, keep small children away from stoves and ovens, and don’t place pot handles where a child can reach them. Keep sleeves away from flames on gas stove; the fabric can burn quickly, severely injuring hands and arms. (While some clothing may be fire retardant, no clothing is 100 percent fireproof.)

5. Place smoke alarms in strategic locations in your home, and check them regularly. Replace the batteries twice a year (when daylight savings and standard time change). Also, make a fire escape plan, and keep a fire extinguisher near the kitchen.

6. Use caution when removing hot items from the oven or microwave, and don’t let children remove the items. Hot liquids can spill as you remove the food. Remove plastic covers on heated foods carefully to avoid a steam burn.

7. Store cleaning solutions, chemicals, and paints in well-ventilated, protected areas, where children can’t access them. Always read labels for using products safely.

8. Watch children around all flames. Set the example by using burn-causing materials (appliances, matches, chemicals, solvents, hot liquids, etc.) properly.

9. Be careful with gas equipment such as lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, and propane tanks. If you hunt, it’s important to air out a deer shanty for 30 minutes in the event that a propane tank has been leaking. If it is not aired out and you light a cigarette, the shanty can go up in flames.

10. Don’t let children play with any small appliances such as curling irons, hair dryers, toasters, irons, or heating pads.

11. Never add liquid fuel to a fire!

Dos and Don’ts for Treating Burns

First-degree burns—when the skin is red and doesn’t blister—can be treated at home. Second- and third-degree burns—when the skin is blistering or white and without feeling—need to be treated by a doctor.

When burned, the first step is to stop the burning and remove any clothing from the burn site. Wash the burn area with cool water and soap, especially if hot oil caused the burn. For a chemical burn, it’s important to dilute the chemical with extensive washing of the burn area.

Don’t cool the burn with ice, which will shrink blood vessels and deepen the injury, as well as cause further damage to your skin. It’s often thought that putting butter on a burn can act like a salve, but butter on a burn can actually increase the risk of infection.

You can use an over-the-counter burn ointment (such as a triple antibiotic that protects the burn area and moisturizes the skin) for the burn, and take anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, for any pain. Keep in mind that even a minor burn on the face or hands may need to be looked at by a health care professional to ensure it will heal properly.

If the burn is blistering and the pain persists, it’s likely that you’ll need to seek treatment to prevent infection and ensure proper healing. Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth to reduce the risk of infection before you go to the doctor.

Dr. Thomas Schneider, a general surgeon, performs many burn-related surgeries at Columbia St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center. For more information on fire safety and burn prevention, call Columbia St. Mary’s at 414-291-1680.

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