Let’s talk about burns
It’s Christmas time – when families are celebrating either in the sunshine (here in the south) or in front of cosy log fires in northern hemisphere countries. The last thing on our minds is the risk of fires, boiling liquids, chemical burns or sunburn. The reality is that accidents happen very quickly, and little children and babies are most at risk.
E.R. staff will tell you that this is their busiest time of the year. Anxious adults bring children and toddlers with burns of every description – mostly from boiling water or oil pulled from the stove by curious toddlers. Severe sunburn and burns from open fires are also common.
Here are some safety tips on how to avoid this situation:
- When filling a bath, always run the cold water first, then add the hot water while you’re in the bathroom.
- Don’t leave little children alone in the bathroom or kitchen – especially when you are cooking, deep-frying or boiling something on the stove. They can ‘help’ you by doing other things – like wash the potatoes.
- When cooking always turn the pot handles inwards and preferably cook on the back plates.
- Don’t carry hot liquids and food around.
- Keep little children away from fireplaces, braais and heaters and other electrical appliances e.g. your hair-straightening iron.
- Keep stools and high chairs away from the stove.
- Cover all plugs and electrical outlets.
- Unplug appliances when you’re not using them and tuck cords away.
- Make sure the kettle and iron cords are short and don’t hang over the edge of the counter or table top.
- Don’t leave matches and lighters lying around.
- With threats of power-outages in South African over Christmas an almost certain reality, take care when burning candles. These should be secured in proper holders or tall bottles and kept out of the reach of little children.
What should you do if your child gets burned?
Keep calm. Don’t shout (even though you told your child to come away from the fire at least half a dozen times!).
Burning continues even when the source has been removed, so it’s important to hold the burn under running water while filling the basin or bath to immerse the burn into cold water for about 10 to 20 minutes. Don’t use ice – this will cut off the blood supply and make the burn worse. Take off the child’s clothes around the burn before it sticks or starts to swell. If clothes are already sticking to the skin, soak them off or cut off around the burn.
Once you have cooled the burn, cover the affected area with any clean cloth that’s been soaked in water – or use a sterile burn-shield from a first-aid kit if you have one. Don’t put butter, flour or any other cream onto the wound before the paramedics arrive or before you go to the hospital. You can give your child a sip of plain water, but otherwise nothing to eat or drink until you have seen a doctor.
Keep your child warm and calm. Watch out for signs of shock; pale skin, rapid pulse, shallow breathing, restlessness and loss of consciousness. Tell the doctor about these.
What will happen at the hospital?
Your child will be given something for pain. For minor burns, this will be given orally, but for more serious burns (more than 10% of the child’s body-mass) this will be with a drip (the drip will also help to compensate for the loss of body fluids).
Children with severe burns will be admitted, and their burns examined and cleaned under an anaesthetic to minimise trauma and pain for the child.
Preventing infections is very important for burn patients because infections interfere with and delay healing. It also increases the risk of scarring. Dressing the wound will depend on where the burn is, the size and cause of the burn. These factors will also determine how long the child will stay in hospital, and whether or not artificial skin (called Biobrane which is a biosynthetic wound dressing with silicone film and nylon fabric), skin-grafts and physiotherapy will be necessary.
To conclude: As always, moms and dads out there ……… Prevention is better than cure. Be careful this holiday season (as I know you are) with your precious little ones around!