Turn up the Heat on Burn Injury Prevention


delilah-dees-author-banner 120613

The heat is on in Southern California, which increases the risk for sun burn and other types of burn injury. Since May is National Trauma Awareness Month, I was inspired to write about burns. The American Burn Association states that more than 136,000 children are treated in an emergency room each year due to burn-related injury. Continue reading as I explain the three types of burns, why babies are more at risk and how you prevent your child from burn-related injury.

Turn up the Heat on Burn Injury Prevention from Children's Hospital Los AngelesBurn Injuries Explained

Burns are classified into three categories depending on how bad the burn.

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are the mildest of the three and are limited to the top layer of skin. Signs and symptoms of first-degree burns include:

  • Minor swelling
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Skin is dry without blisters

Healing time is about 3 to 6 days; the top skin layer over the burn may peel off in 1 or 2 days.

With a first-degree burn, the top skin layer over the burn will peel off. First-degree burns are the mildest of the three.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns are more serious and involve the skin layers beneath the top layer and are usually the most painful. Signs and symptoms for second-degree burns include:

  • Blisters. The blisters may break open and the area is wet-looking with a bright pink to “cherry red” color.
  • Severe pain
  • Redness

Healing time varies depending on the severity of the second-degree burn. It can take up to 3 weeks or more.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are the most serious type of burn and involve all the layers of the skin and underlying tissue. Signs and symptoms of third-degree burns include:

  • Dry-looking skin on the surface
  • “Waxy white,” leathery, brown or charred-looking skin.
  • There may be little or no pain
  • The area may feel numb at first because of nerve damage

Healing time depends on the severity of the burn. Deep second and third-degree burns (called full-thickness burns) will likely need to be treated with skin grafts, in which healthy skin is taken from another part of the body and surgically placed over the burn wound to help the area heal.

Why are babies and young children more at risk for burn injury?

Statistics show that babies are at an increased risk for trauma especially scalding burns. This may be alarming, but the primary reason is because babies and young children are curious, small and have sensitive skin that needs extra protection. Since their skin is so sensitive, a soup or coffee burn can be more intense and painful that would be for an adult.

“Scald burns are the most common type of burn. Toddlers are naturally curious and often reach up for hot liquids off stoves and countertops. These hot liquid can hit their face, chest and hands causing a burn,” said Elizabeth Cleek, RN, CPNP, trauma program manager at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Debunking Burn Treatment Myths

There are some myths when it comes to treating burns at home. Let’s take a minute to debunk some of these and learn the correct way to treat your child’s burn. 

Myth: Apply butter on the burn. 

Fact: It is not recommended to apply butter, grease or any powder to burns as it can cause the burn to get deeper and increase the risk for infection. 

Myth: Run hot water on the burn. 

Fact: Run COOL water over the burn and do not use ice. Applying ice to a burn may cause more damage to the skin.

If your child experiences a burn injury, take them to your nearest emergency department to begin the healing and treatment process.

Turn up the Heat on Burn Injury Prevention from Children’s Hospital Los AngelesPrevent Your Child from Burn Injury

To learn about effective ways to prevent your child from burn injury, I reached out to Calvin Lowe, MD, FAAP, medical director, Children’s Emergency Transport at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He offered these helpful tips:

  • Keep matches, lighter fluid, candles and fireworks out of reach of your child
  • Place child-safety covers on all electrical outlets
  • Change the battery in your smoke alarm every six months
  • Use a cool mist vaporizer rather than a humidifier
  • Set the thermostat of the water heater at 120 degrees (the default setting usually at 140 degrees which can burn your child)
  • Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove, so kids can’t reach for them.
  • Block your child’s access to the stove
  • Avoid using large tablecloths or large place mats to display hot drinks and food (children will tug and risk being spilled on)
  • Don’t hold your child while cooking
  • Do not warm your child’s bottle in the microwave

Other prevention methods include:

  • Don't leave your child unattended in the tub, even for a moment. They may turn the hot water nob
  • Keep your toddlers out of the kitchen while you prepare meals—this includes camp fires and barbecue
  • Prevent electrical cords of appliances (e.g. coffee pots, crock pots, etc.) dangle over the edge of your kitchen counter
  • Apply a sunscreen lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more at least 30 minutes before your child is in the sun
  • Don't smoke while holding your child
  • Keep infants and toddlers away from fireplaces, barbecue grills, kerosene heaters and wood-burning stoves (use fireplace screens or doors)
  • Don't leave your child alone near hot appliances (e.g. oven door, space heater, curling iron, fireplace or light).
  • Unplug appliances when not in use.

Whether your child receives a first-degree or third-degree burn, all burns should be considered serious and treated immediately. A burn injury can happen at any time, so please share this blog post to make sure children and families remain safe.