You’ve likely experienced a sunburn or accidentally touched something hot enough that you recoiled in pain. While those incidents represent minor burns, they provide a good basis for understanding how devastating burns can potentially be. Burn injuries can cause debilitating pain, disability and disfigurement. To bring attention to the danger burns present and offer prevention tips and best practices, the American Burn Association designates the first full week in February as Burn Awareness Week.
Burn injuries are the 5th leading cause of injury deaths in the United States; nearly 486,000 people require medical attention for burn injuries each year. In 2016, there were 3,390 deaths from fire including 2,800 home and residential structure fires, 150 non-residential structure fires and 355 motor vehicle fires. An additional 40,000 people were hospitalized for burn-related injuries.
Tragically, children are more likely to suffer burns than the general population. Nearly a quarter (24%) of all burns happen to children under age 15. Another striking statistic: kids under age 5 require emergency medical treatment for burns 2.4 times more often than the general population.
Young adults between ages 20 and 29 have a higher than normal risk for burn injuries―approximately 1.5 times that of the general population. And watch out, guys: males suffer from burns more often than females; in burn units, 68% of patients are male and 32% are female.
About 73% of burn injuries happen at home, followed by 8% of burns that result from work-related injuries. The main causes are fire, scalds, touching something hot, electrical, and chemical burns. With modern medical advances, nearly 97% of burn sufferers will survive their injuries, though most will live with significant scars, possible life-long physical disabilities and difficulty adjusting to these unfortunate circumstances.
When kids play with fire, people die: an average of 56,300 fires are set accidentally by children each year, causing 110 deaths and 880 injuries.
Teach your kids that matches and lighters are tools that only adults can use. Keep them out of sight and out of reach―preferably in a locked cabinet.
The No. 1 cause of fire deaths in the home is smoking. That’s a convincing reason to quit, but if you don’t quit, make it a habit to go outside to smoke. And never smoke while you’re lying down, sleepy or under the influence of medications or alcohol, which can make you drowsy.
Cooking is the No. 1 cause of fires and injuries in the home; the culprit is often an unattended pan on the stove. To prevent such an accident, never leave the kitchen while there’s a pan on the stove—turn it off if you must leave the room. It’s also wise to wear close-fitting clothing while cooking to avoid accidental shirt-sleeve or shirt-tail fires. If a pan catches fire, put a lid on it and turn the burner off.
Another fire prevention tip: never leave a burning candle unattended.
First-degree burns are the least severe type of burns that affect the outermost layer of skin, such as a sunburn. The skin remains unbroken but is painful and may appear pink, hot or warm to the touch. There could also be small blisters and swelling. For first-degree burns, cool the burned area with running water that’s cool (but not cold) for up to 15 minutes or until the pain diminishes. Don’t use ice or butter, which could cause further skin damage.
In the case of a first-degree burn, immediately remove all jewelry, rings, watches and clothing from the burned area, as swelling may quickly cause these items to become too tight to remove. If the burned area is small, aloe vera or antibiotic cream may bring relief. Watch for signs of infection. Cover the burned area with a sterile, dry bandage to protect it.
Seek medical attention if the pain can’t be controlled with over-the-counter medications, if a fever develops and persists, or for any burn larger than the size of the victim’s palm.
Always seek medical attention for burns to the eyes, mouth, hands or genitals—even mild burns in those areas require professional treatment. In addition, any burn that doesn’t heal within two weeks should be treated by a doctor.
Second-degree burns are more serious, extending into the dermis or second layer of skin. These burns are extremely painful and show blisters and swelling and get very red. Second-degree burns almost always require a doctor’s care. Without proper medical attention, the victim may lose function in the burned area or suffer disfigurement.
Third-degree burns extend deep into the subcutaneous tissues, involving all layers of the skin and may appear charred, black or white. Third degree burns are a medical emergency: seek immediate medical attention if you suspect a third-degree burn.