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Burn concerns

Potential hazards in the home.

Article Author: Wesley Roberts

Article Date:

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Our guest columnist, Ramona Criss, RN, is the coordinator for the Snyder Family Burn and Wound Care Center at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

Nearly 70,000 people each year are treated in emergency departments in the United States for burns, and a staggering third of those people are children under 5.

It can happen in the blink of an eye. It’s easy for parents and caregivers to get distracted while cooking, entertaining or participating in outdoor activities. When an adult’s guard is down, accidents can happen. As a teenager, I was involved in a home accident resulting in second-degree burns, hospitalization and many months of treatment. It’s important to include the entire family in burn safety, no matter how old the children.

I encourage you to talk to your child in an age-appropriate manner about the dangers of burns. These seven prevention tips can help keep your family safe.

  1. Create a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around areas like stoves, microwaves and space heaters. Brightly colored tape works well as a visual reminder for kids of any age. It’s also a good idea to use the back burners of the stove and keep pot handles turned away from the edge. Don’t hold a child while you cook or have a hot drink in your hand.
  2. Limit microwave use by children. Remember to treat items coming from the microwave as you would those from the oven. Microwave noodles are one of the No. 1 reasons pediatric patients are seen for burns. Never warm a baby’s bottle in the microwave, as it can heat food and liquids unevenly.
  3. Avoid using tablecloths and placemats. Children can tug on these and cause hot food or liquid to spill. Consider using a travel mug with a tight-fitting lid for liquids.
  4. Set your hot water heater thermostat at 120 F, or just below the medium setting, and test the water with a bath thermometer. Run your hand through the water to check for hot spots. A safe temperature is 100 F when bathing young children. Never leave a child unattended in the bathtub, even for a few seconds! Five seconds: that’s the short time in which a child can be scalded in water at 140 F (60 C). Constant supervision of children is the single most important factor in preventing tap water scalds, in addition to drowning. Face the child away from the faucet so he or she cannot reach it.
  5. Keep fireplace switches and remote controls out of the reach of children. Remember, glass fireplace doors can remain hot for up to one hour after use.
  6. Don’t leave children unattended around open flames such as candles, grills, fire pits or campfires. Seventy percent of campfire burns are caused by embers, rather than flames. Fire pits remain hot enough to cause a severe burn up to 12 hours after being extinguished. Create a “safety circle” at least three feet from the edges of fire pits and campfires, even long after the fire has been put out. Teach kids to never put anything into the fireplace.
  7. Check electronic toys often for wear and tear. Throw away or repair any object that sparks, feels hot or smells odd. Replace batteries in electronic toys regularly and look for any signs of corrosion. Button high-powered lithium batteries, no bigger than a nickel, are used to power small electronic devices, including remote controls, watches, musical greeting cards and ornaments. When accidentally swallowed, they can get stuck in the esophagus and generate an electrical current that causes severe chemical burns and tissue damage. If your child has swallowed one of the batteries, go to the emergency room immediately.

If a burn does happen, follow these steps:

  • Use cool (not cold) tap water to stop the burning process.
  • Remove all clothing and/or diaper from the injured area.
  • Do not clean or dress the wounds. That means no ice, ointments or bandages! Simply cover the area in a clean, dry sheet. Keep the child warm.
  • Seek medical attention immediately at an emergency department, no matter how small or large the affected area. We encourage all burns to be seen because depending on the mechanism of injury, some burns can continue further damage for up to 24 hours, changing it from a second-degree burn to a third-degree burn.

The Porter Family Children’s Trauma Center is prepared 24/7 to treat children with the most serious illnesses and injuries, including burns. If your child’s injury or illness is life-threatening, call 911. For more information, visit wolfsonchildrens.com/emergency.

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