Years ago, while enjoying a family campfire outdoors, one of my sons inadvertently flung a burning marshmallow from the end of his roasting stick. Fortunately, no one was hit — it struck a tree and flamed out. While disaster was averted, it was a potent reminder of how mindful we need to be around fire.
The burn unit at The Hospital for Sick Children is among its busiest emergency services. What’s more, pediatric nurse practitioner Charis Kelly says that since the pandemic the number of patients seen at the burn unit has doubled. Here, she shares tips on how to keep your children safe from burns. The good news? There are steps parents can take to prevent tragedy.
What are some of the most common injuries you see at the burn unit?
About 70 per cent of the burns we treat are scalds from hot liquids. We see scald burns from toppled cups of tea or coffee, or from soup spilled onto a child’s lap. Another common cause is when kids are in the bathtub and they accidentally knock the hot water tap. So, it’s really important not only to never leave your child unattended, but also to check your hot water tank at home, and make sure it’s set no higher than 150 degrees F.
The second most common are contact burns. These are typically from a glass-fronted fireplace or a campfire. The glass front of a gas fireplace can get up to 400 degrees F. If a young child learning to walk, for example, puts his hands on the glass front, he can sustain third-degree burns within two seconds.
In warmer weather, we see children who have fallen into campfires, or kids who have accidentally walked on hot coals that haven’t been extinguished properly.
If my child suffers a burn, what’s the first thing I should do?
Even before you call for help, you want to stop the burning process. That means removing any hot, wet clothes, and applying cool water for 20 minutes. This will really affect the outcome.
A lot of people worry if they remove any clothing, they’re going to tear the skin with it. But if that were to happen, it means the skin was not viable and would blister off anyway. By keeping hot clothes against the skin, you’re actually allowing that heat to continue to travel into the skin and burn deeper.
How do I know if a burn is serious enough to take my child to the doctor?
One of the biggest factors is pain. If your child is in pain, bring him to your health-care provider or the hospital to be assessed. He’ll need good pain management and proper wound care to prevent infection. The quicker you can heal a burn, the less chance there is for scarring.
You’ll also want to seek medical attention for any burn to the face, the genitals, the hands or feet — these are difficult areas to treat and require expert advice. Also, bring in a child with a burn bigger than the palm of your hand; a burn of this size is significant on a child.
What are some burn prevention tips for parents?
We have a saying: eight feet from the heat. So, when you’re cooking, for example, don’t have kids running around when you’re about to open the oven door or strain pasta in the sink. Also, pot handles should always be turned in, and use the back elements of the stove when possible.
Keep all hot beverages in travel mugs. If you’re pushing your child in a stroller, or you’re breastfeeding, make sure hot beverages have a lid on them. And when serving soup or hot chocolate, just make sure it’s at an appropriate temperature.
That eight-feet rule applies to campfires too. Outline a campfire with a safety circle and make sure kids know where they’re allowed to go.
How to identify what kind of burn your child has sustained
Appearance: A sunburn is a good example of a first-degree burn. You’ll see sensitive, red skin, that can be itchy and can peel.
Treatment: A cool compress applied to the skin; no ointments or creams. First-degree burns usually take a week to fully resolve.
Appearance: A second-degree burn is one that has gone through the epidermis – the top layer of the skin – and the skin blisters off. You’ll usually see a pink open wound with fluid coming from it.
Treatment: After you’ve cooled the burn with water, cover the wound with a clean cloth and take you child to your health-care provider or emergency.
Appearance: These are full-thickness burns that have gone through two layers of skin – the epidermis and the dermis. These burns can be white, brown or yellow, and are usually leathery and tough.
Treatment: Once you’ve cooled the burn with water, call 911. These burns typically need surgery.
PRO TIP: Burn-treatment myths
The burn unit at SickKids has seen too many harmful home remedies as burn first-aid. Use Charis Kelly’s cool-water-only rule, and do not apply any of the following:
• A cut potato