Each year, approximately 3.5 million Americans suffer the most painful of household accidents – burns. From sunburn to scalding water and from chemical burns to injury from fire, burns range in severity from the most superficial, fast-healing wound to deep, damaging tissue injury.
If it happens to you or a loved one, knowledge is your best friend. In the heat of the moment, it is important to keep a cool head. Here’s what you should know:
The three types of burns
First-degree burns affect only the top layer of skin and do not result in swelling or blistering. Sunburns are a form of first-degree burn.
Second-degree burns affect the outer layer of skin and the layer beneath. Blistering and swelling may result.
Third-degree burns are the most severe and destroy all the layers of skin, as well as some of the tissue beneath. Often, the nerves in the skin are destroyed and the victim feels very little pain at first. Soon after, extreme pain sets in. These burns can involve shock, infection, scarring and even death. Advanced medical procedures are needed, and long-term treatment is common.
Tips for treatment
Treatment for burns depends on the cause of the burn and the extent of the injury.
- Soak the wound in cool water for at least five minutes, and then cover the area with gauze.
- Minor burns can be treated with over-the-counter products, such as aloe.
- Antibiotic creams can prevent or treat infections.
- DO NOT use ice or ice water. Ice can cause frostbite and damage the skin.
- DO NOT use cotton balls to clean the wound. Cotton residue can stick to the wound, contaminating the area.
- Even if the burn seems minor, seek medical attention if the affected area covers larger than a 3-inch patch.
- For more serious burns, seek immediate medical care. Treatment will be needed to clean the wound and make sure the patient has enough fluids.
- Prescription drugs, water-based treatments like misting ultrasound, compression dressings and skin grafting are possible forms of treatment.
Prevention is the best treatment
- Keep children out of the kitchen while cooking.
- Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove.
- Place a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen.
- Keep water heater temperature under 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Measure bath water temperature before use.
- Lock up matches and lighters.
- Install electrical outlet covers.
- Check and discard electrical cords with exposed wires.
- Keep chemicals out of reach and wear gloves during chemical use.
- Wear sunscreen and avoid peak sunlight.
- If you smoke, don’t smoke in bed.
- Ensure all candles and smoking products are extinguished completely after use.
- Use space heaters carefully. Teach children to stay away from them.
- Before putting a child into a car seat, touch the seat to see if it is hot. Hot straps or buckles can cause second-degree burns on small children. Cover the car seat with a towel when you park in the sun.
- Do not use a microwave to warm baby bottles. The liquid heats unevenly and can scald your baby’s mouth.
- Unplug hot irons (clothing and curling irons) after use. Keep them out of reach of children.
- Have a fire escape plan and regularly practice it with your family.