Burn Safety Tips for Summertime Fun

Adventist Health emergency room healthcare providers have some pointers to keep you and your family safe from burns this season when damage to skin from the sun, grilling accidents, fireworks, and campfires is all too common. By making safety a top priority and taking a few key steps, burn accidents can be prevented.

Vegetarian kebab. Grilled vegetables kebab. Burning red coals

Guidelines for a safe barbecue

  • During summer parties, it’s easy to take your eyes off the grill, which could put you, a family member, or a pet in danger. Remember these barbecuing safety tips before you put the veggie kebabs on:
  • If you’re using a propane barbecue, check the tank hose for potential leaks.
  • Only grill on stable ground a safe distance away from the house or other structures.Keep the grill clean to avoid grease buildup that can lead to flare-ups and fires.
  • Never leave a barbecue unattended.
  • Keep kids and pets at a distance.
Avoiding campfire catastrophes

Camping trips just don’t feel complete without a campfire, but with fire comes risk. Keep these tips in mind around your next campfire:

  • Contain your campfire in a stone or metal fire pit away from grass, bushes, and trees with low-hanging limbs.
  • Keep flammable items away from the fire.
  • Keep water nearby in case a gust of wind or other trigger causes the fire to suddenly grow.
  • Check for campfire restrictions before starting your fire. Illegal campfires can lead to dangerous forest fires.
  • Avoid inhaling dangerous campfire smoke.

Sunburn safety for summer and beyond

The sun reaches peak intensity between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and can be dangerous if you don’t take precautions. These simple steps can protect you and your family:

  • Avoid staying in the sun for hours on end.
  • Look for shade or bring a beach umbrella.
  • If you must go into the sun, regularly apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for sunscreen to activate once applied. Don’t forget to coat your lips, ears, and the top of your head. And protect your eyes with sunglasses.
  • If you do get sunburned, apply fresh aloe vera to ease the pain.
Categorizing burns

If the worst happens and you do get burned, it’s important to know how to evaluate the burn to get the treatment needed.

  • First-degree burn: As is the case with a mild sunburn, the burn site is red, painful, dry, and free of blisters. It usually takes seven to 10 days to heal.
  • Second-degree burn: The burn extends beyond the top layer of skin, causing blisters that can become infected if popped. Second-degree burns usually take two to three weeks to heal.
  • Third-degree burn: Symptoms vary but include a waxy/white color, char, and/or a dark brown color. These burns also have undeveloped blisters and raised, leathery skin. There is no set timeline for healing, and scarring often occurs.

Urgent care vs. ER: Where to get burn treatment

Depending on the severity of the burn, you may be able to treat it on your own with over-the-counter medicines and burn creams. More serious burns could mean a trip to urgent care or the emergency room.

Burns that are more than 2 inches wide should be seen by an urgent care provider. That includes painful sunburns and burns from flames or a hot pan that can lead to blistering.

For more serious burns that can be debilitating—particularly burns to the face, eyes, ears, hands, feet, or genitals—go to the emergency room immediately for treatment.

All burns aren’t created equal, and it may be hard to decide what type you have. If in doubt, get it checked out by a medical provider. Burns that get infected and go untreated can be dangerous, even life-threatening.

If a burn or any other accident is potentially life-threatening, call 911 immediately.

Common burn mistakes to avoid

Running the burn under cold water for too short of a time: A minute or two under cold water is not enough. To help heal the wound and ease the pain, run a burn under cold water for 10 to 15 minutes and then apply a damp/cool towel over the area.

Popping blisters: While it can be tempting, popping blisters on your own can expose you to infection. It’s better to let them heal on their own and by using medicine. If you believe a blister must be popped, visit your medical care provider for treatment.

Relying on a “base suntan” to prevent burning: Spending time in a tanning bed to get a base tan is a bad idea. The human body cannot protect itself effectively from UV rays in tanning beds. Estimates show that tanning beds lead to 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.

Skipping sunscreen: Just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear sunscreen. UV rays still penetrate clouds and can lead to a sunburn. Keep in mind that even in cool temperatures you can catch a lot of rays at high elevation.

Relying on old-fashioned home remedies: Home remedies are often ineffective and can actually prevent burns and other wounds from healing. Butter is best left to corn on the cob and Vaseline left in the cupboard. Grease will actually contain the heat and slow the healing process. Vinegar, bleach, and cold meat should also be avoided.

Letting your tetanus shots get out of date: Minor and major burns can lead to tetanus, so talk with your provider now to see if you should get a booster shot to protect yourself. Take the steps necessary to protect yourself before a burn happens.

Now that you’re ready, start up that grill and get out the marshmallows!
By Kim Strobel