This is National Burn Awareness Week, through Saturday, Feb. 8. And according to the Office of the Maryland State Fire Marshal, almost a quarter of all burn injuries occur in children younger than 15.
These burns aren’t just from fire. Chemicals, hot liquids and heated devices, such as clothing irons, hair curlers, and of course, hot plates and stove tops, play a big role in burn injuries.
In the United States, approximately 400,000 people receive medical care for treatment of burn injuries every year. In 2018 alone, there were 3,655 deaths from fire and smoke inhalation. The majority of these injuries are preventable.
The American Burn Association aims to bring awareness to the causes of such devastating and costly injuries and encourages everyone to make simple environmental and behavioral changes that can save lives.
This year’s theme is “Hot Surfaces Damage Skin.” Sounds obvious, but it’s worth noting, of course.
Most burn injuries occur at home, but nearly 10% of all burn injuries happen in the workplace.
Burns are not just caused by getting too close to a fire or accidentally hitting the inside edge of the oven when you are cooking.
According to the ABA, roughly 70,000 people went to the hospital emergency department because of contact burns in 2018. And most burns associated with cooking from 2013 to 2017 were caused by contact with a hot object or liquid rather than by fire or flame.
The organization also says that scald burns rank as the second-leading cause of all burn injuries. With an estimated 486,000 such injuries each year that are serious enough to require treatment, it’s worth thinking twice before leaving hot liquids unattended, especially with children in the house. Hot coffee and microwaved soup play big roles, but even hot bath water can send someone to the hospital.
There are yet more numbers that should cause parents and caretakers pause: Each day more than 300 children find themselves in an emergency room from burns, and two of those die from their injuries, according to the ABA.
The National Fire Protection Association offers a host of tips to prevent scald injuries such as:
• Install anti-scald devices on tub faucets and shower heads. Babies and older adults have thinner skin, so they are at risk for deep burns even with lower temperatures and shorter exposure times. Hot water from the tap should be below 100 degrees.
• Test the water by with your hand, wrist and forearm. It should be warm, but not hot to the touch.
• Don’t put bowls or cups of hot liquids near the edge of a table or counter — move them to the back or to the center.
• Never hold a child while you are cooking, drinking hot beverages or carrying hot food.
• Open microwaved foods slowly. Better yet, let them cool down some before opening or serving.
• When it comes to the microwave, whether at home or work, choose prepackaged foods and soups with a wide base. An alternative to that is to pour the soup or spoon the food into a traditional bowl.
• When cooking over a stove top or with an oven, keep oven mitts and lids handy — for dousing fires — and consider establishing a “kid-free zone” of three feet or so around the stove.
• Unplug heating appliances, such as countertop grills and electric fry pans when not in use. It wouldn’t hurt to unplug the coffee maker and other such water boilers to ensure tiny hands don’t result in a trip to the emergency room.
If you or someone in your care does suffer a scalding, cool the affected area with cold water for several minutes and seek medical help if needed.
And, while the fire marshal’s office didn’t mention pets in its release, our furry friends are also at risk when hot liquids and steaming foods are within their reach. So, keep those things on high counters and tables where they can’t get their noses or tongues scalded.
Weeks like this are a good time to reflect on the kinds of things we do routinely that can go so wrong with a slip or during a bout of absentmindedness. So be careful.