Burn injuries are always unpleasant, but many still underestimate how much damage they can do, especially to toddlers and infants. This article is a primer on prevention, as well as management of minor burns.
Burns obviously can be severe and even fatal. From a global perspective, the WHO estimates that over 180,000 people die of burns every year. However, they are unequally distributed, with the vast majority of them coming from low and middle-income countries.1 Minor burn injuries are still widespread in the west, and even these injuries can become dangerous if infected, and scarring is also common if the wounds aren’t managed properly.
Burn Safety: Prevention
Infants and toddlers come to mind when burn safety is mentioned, and for a good reason. Indoor accidents cause the vast majority of burns, and often they are easily preventable:
- Hot liquids
- Dry irons
- Electrical outlets
Simply being aware of these potential sources of burns can help you prevent an accident. For example, you may want to avoid placing a cup of hot tea on a table cloth, which can easily be pulled down by a toddler. You may be more careful about carrying your baby while cooking or dealing with heat. A little extra thought can prevent disaster.
- Protect yourself (or another person) from further harm. It’s unlikely that this step will be necessary (hopefully) but follow common sense. Control the source of the burn or evacuate the area if that’s not feasible.
- Remove any clothing or accessories that may be restricting.
- Cool the burn with running tap water if available. If not, a cool compress will also work. Apply for 10 minutes.
- Cover the burn with a sterile bandage. Don’t use cotton, as cotton sticks to the skin and will damage the skin when you pull them out. Optionally you may want to apply Vaseline.
- If there is still minor pain, taking an over-the-counter painkiller may help. If the pain is too severe, this is a clear sign that you need to see a doctor.
When to see a doctor
Often, the decision will be obvious – without a need to consult a website. Most people have reasonable common sense when it comes to burn injuries. Burns that affect large areas of the skin, obviously severe injuries, and ones that affect sensitive sites like the face and the genitals; these are clear cases where it’s doctor time.2 It’s important to know, however, that even minor burns can take a turn for the worse. You should consider going to the doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Sign of infection: Swelling, increase in pain, fever, oozing
- Blisters larger than 5 centimeters
- Redness and pain lasting over 3 hours
- If the burn covers a large surface area
- It doesn’t heal after two weeks
Remember to err on the side of safety when it comes to burns. Exposed skin is particularly vulnerable to scarring, as well as an infection.
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