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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 12/13/05
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC HEALTH LINE: Caution Can Prevent Burns in the Home

Many burn injuries people suffer around the holidays—and throughout the year—can be prevented with simple behavior changes and basic safety precautions, according to a UC surgeon.

“The ‘hustle-bustle’ of the holiday season causes us to take shortcuts and act carelessly—especially in the kitchen,” explains Kevin Bailey, MD, a burn surgeon who practices at University Hospital and the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital.

Those precautions include identifying potential burn hazards and educating your family about the importance of burn safety.

“If you eliminate the environmental hazard, you eliminate the risk,” he says.

Burns can be caused by chemicals or electricity as well as heat and are categorized based on the temperature and duration of exposure endured by the skin. First-degree burns (for example, sunburn) result in reddening of the skin and pain. Second-degree burns (for example, scalds) cause blistering and are more painful, but usually heal within two weeks. Third-degree burns destroy all layers of the skin, and often require skin grafting—or surgical replacement of the dead skin.

According to the American Burn Association (ABA), Americans suffer more than 1 million burn injuries each year—which result in about 45,000 hospitalizations and about 2,700 deaths.

Turning pan handles to the inside of the stove, using cooking mitts and covering pans of grease to avoid sputtering are easy—but important—ways to reduce risk of injury, he says.

Dr. Bailey also points out that children, elderly adults and people with disabilities are most susceptible to burns in the home. All three groups have thinner skin, which can result in deeper damage, and may react more slowly to potential dangers.  

“People need to be mindful of little visitors with exploring hands and adult visitors who may react more slowly to their surroundings,” he says. “It only takes a second for a child to pull a pan of grease off the stove or to brush a shirt sleeve over a gas burner.”  

The ABA recommends the following emergency steps to treat first- and second-degree burns smaller than the palm of your hand:

·         Stop the burning process. Remove all clothing, diapers and jewelry. These items can retain heat and cause more damage.

·         Cool the burned area. Run cool—not cold—water over the burn area for a several minutes. Do not apply ice to the burn, as it can cause further damage. You should also avoid applying creams, salves and ointments or breaking any blisters that form.

·         Cover the burn. Place a clean, dry cloth over the wound to soothe the area.

However, Dr. Bailey emphasizes, you should seek immediate medical attention for all burns that involve the face, hands, feet, major joints or genital area.

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