Burn Awareness Week is Feb. 3-9. At the University of Vermont Medical Center, we see burn injuries throughout the year – burns from falling into campfires or putting accelerants on fires in the summer, and burns from heaters in the winter. Most of the patients we see have either been burned from flames (flame burns) or hot fluids (scald burns).
The American Burn Association is focusing their outreach on scald burns. Scald injuries affect all ages but are mostly seen in young children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Annually in the United States and Canada, approximately 250,000 people are treated for scald burns. Of all the scald injuries, 60 percent occur in young children and happen most often in the kitchen or bathroom.
Many of us have experienced a scald burn from hot drinks, soups or hot water. These burns range in severity from minor to extremely severe. A scald occurs when hot liquid or steam damages one or more layers of skin. Scald injuries are painful and require lengthy treatment.
How long the skin is in contact with the scalding substance is the main factor determining how severe the scald will be. For example, oatmeal and spaghetti sauce heated close to boiling temperatures will cause a more severe injury than hot water at the same temperature. A small spill can injure a large area of a child’s body. A cup of coffee could burn 25 percent of a toddler’s body. Clothing upon which a substance is spilled will hold heat until removed.
To treat a scald burn, cool the burn with cool water for 3 to 5 minutes and cover with a clean, dry cloth. Seek medical attention if you have a large area burn, pain cannot be controlled with over-the-counter medicine, the burn is not painful to touch (suggests a deep burn), or if are just concerned about the burn.
Prevention is always preferable to treatment! Here are a few safety tips that can make your home safer and help prevent painful burns.
- Near the stove or cooking area, draw a boundary a few feet back of a “kid-free” zone on the floor or mark it with tape.
- Use placemats with a non-slip surface instead of tablecloths.
- Use spill-resistant “travel mugs” as hot beverage containers.
- Keep hot foods and liquids high and out of reach.
- Turn pot handles away from the stove edge.
- Do not use microwave ovens to heat baby bottles. Help young children use the microwave.
- Keep appliance cords away from the counter edge to prevent spills from tripping over cords.
- Set hot water temperature on your hot water heater at or below 120 degrees. It only takes 5 seconds to scald a child if the water temperature is 140 degrees.
Margaret Tandoh, MD, is a trauma and burn surgeon and director of the Burn Center at the UVM Medical Center.