While burn accidents are most common in the summertime, they can
happen at any time of year and anywhere--the backyard, the beach, or
the bathroom. Many burn accidents occur during recreational
activities, says Gerald Kealey, MD, professor of surgery at the
University of Iowa College of Medicine and a staff physician at UI
Hospitals and Clinics.
Drinking cold beer and cooking out on the grill may not always be
a good combination. Some people tend to become more careless when
drinking alcohol. Using drugs or alcohol can lower your reaction time
and dull your senses, often resulting in serious accidents, Kealey
There are three degrees of burns. First degree burns, the least
serious, will turn your skin red and cause some pain and maybe
swelling. More serious, second degree burns damage deeper layers of
the skin. Blisters will appear and you may have a considerable amount
of pain and swelling for several days. Third degree burns are most
severe, damaging tissues below the skin. The burned area will appear
brown or black and feel tight and leathery with reduced sensation.
First and second degree burns are often caused by the sun. Third
degree burns from the sun are rare but are more common with the use
of heat lamps and tanning booths. "Burns occur more quickly from
these devices' ultraviolet rays and thus you may not get the tan you
had hoped for," he adds.
Scalding tap water is another frequent cause of burns. Many
children under the age of eight die each year from severe burns
--specifically accidental burns from scalding tap water. Kealey
suggests you keep your hot water heater set at a safe temperature,
around 120 degrees. Children and elderly persons have thin skin and
can be burned quickly by hot water. They also tend to be slower at
escaping scalding water.
"If your water heater goes out, hire a professional to light the
pilot light," Kealey says. You can be seriously burned when trying to
light a furnace or water heater. Invisible gases can pool in the air
undetected, creating the danger of an explosion.
If you get a minor burn, he suggests you immerse it in cold water.
Apply a clean, dry cloth to a moderate burn. If you are worried about
the cloth sticking to your burn, wrap it in plastic wrap or waxed
paper, Kealey suggests. A second degree burn, which generally
requires medical care, should be treated as an open wound because it
may become infected if unprotected.
Third degree burns need urgent medical care. Apply a clean dry
cloth to keep out air and prevent contamination. Don't wrap someone
who has been severely burned in cold, wet sheets or apply large
amounts of ice, Kealey says. This causes hypothermia--when the body's
temperature drops below normal--and the person has to shiver to bring
up body temperature, wasting valuable body energy. Also, don't apply
butter or vanilla extract to a burn. These preparations could be
harmful to damaged tissues.
Most burns can be prevented by taking precautions. If you or
someone you know becomes seriously burned, seek medical attention
The UI Burn Treatment Center has a walk in clinic 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be used as an Emergency Room for burn related injuries of all kinds.