Ouch That’s Hot!

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Matthew Whittington, a third year resident in the Family Practice program at the University Health Center here in Lafayette.  We see a lot of burns in the Pediatric Emergency Department, mostly from spilled hot liquids or kids grabbing hot curling irons or open ovens.  And parents feel terribly guilty when it happens.  Read and heed Dr. Whittington!- SH

The idea of a child getting burned is such a scary subject for parents.  Though it is scary, educating yourself now is the best way to prevent a burn.  You also will know how to best handle a burn situation if it happens.  If a parent has a sound game plan, a frightening situation can be countered with calm quick action.

Prevention is the best way to handle burns, of course.  A weekend project to ready you and your home can go a very long way for peace of mind.  Cover electrical outlets.  Exploratory behavior of young children often leads to them sticking fingers, coins, forks, and keys into these outlets.  Set the water heater to 120 degrees (or less).  Always check the water temperature of running water for baths.

Keep flammable materials, like curtains, at least three feet away from space heaters and candles.  Hide the matches and lighters so they are never in a child’s reach.  Install safety gates around fireplaces.  Install smoke detectors in every bedroom, in main hallways, and everywhere else recommended in the smoke detector instruction booklet.  Watch closely while using appliances that heat up, like curling irons and hair dryers.

Burns commonly happen in the kitchen.  Never hold a child while cooking at the stove. Use high chairs in the kitchen to keep your toddler from reaching hot things, or install gates to keep them out of the kitchen.  Only use back stove burners, with pot handles turned inwards.   Toddlers will reach up and grab pots, just like mom does!   Be very careful with the microwave.  Children often get burned when they are allowed to heat things up in the microwave themselves.  Microwave doors also are big targets for others to bump into when hot things are being taken out, and the hot liquid gets spilled on everyone nearby.

However, if burns occur despite your best prevention measures, appropriate care is essential.  Care of burns depends on what type of burn you are dealing with.  First degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin.  They are red, and can be slightly swollen. Sunburns are the most common first degree burns.  This type of burn can still be quite painful.  Run cool, clean water over the affected area to halt the burning process.  Do not use ice as this can further damage the skin.  Mild burn creams and ibuprofen or Tylenol can help with the pain.

Worse burns are second and third degree burns.  Second degree burns are when the skin is burned through more than one layer, the skin layers separate with the damage, and blisters form.  Second degree burns are still painful, because the burn does not destroy the nerves.  Third degree burns cook the full thickness of the skin.  The burn area tends to be pale/yellow, and leathery.  They often do not hurt to touch, given that the nerves are damaged.

If dealing with burns beyond minor first degree, still cool the burn with clean water. Remove all jewelry, clothing, bracelets, and rings.  These might constrict the burn area when swelling sets in.  Taking clothes soaked with hot scalding liquid off right away will also help keep the burn from progressing from a first degree burn to worse.

If blisters have formed, don’t pop them!  This increases the risk of infection.  Cover the area with a dressing, preferably one that won’t stick.  If nothing else is available, you can use cling wrap.  This acts like a second skin to prevent infection later.  Then bring the child to a doctor.

Most importantly, begin talking with your children about hot items and fires.  Start at an early age so they always know the importance of safety measures.  With prevention and education, your home can be happy and safe.


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