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Don’t let a burn scorch your holiday plans

‘Tis the season for glowing hearths, shimmering trees and fresh-baked sugary delights. 

But the holidays also mean a higher incidence of burns and scalds, particularly among children 14 years and younger. Little ones under 4 are especially at risk.

When a burn happens, it’s important to act quickly. But knowing what to do can be confusing, especially when everyone has an opinion about what works and what doesn’t. When your little one suffers a burn when making hot cocoa in the microwave, your Facebook call for help is likely to yield a plethora of advice.

Don’t rely on guesswork and unproven—and sometimes harmful—remedies. Know how to react quickly and with confidence when burns happen, including what to do immediately, what to do afterward to ease the pain and promote healing, and when to visit Indigo Health for medical treatment.

What is the most common burn risk during the holidays?

During the holidays, there’s a lot of activity in the kitchen, from making and baking treats to hosting family feasts. It’s no wonder that most burns that happen this time of year are from contact with hot liquids and burning surfaces.

The good news is kitchen-related burns are completely preventable. Here are a few tips to keep kids safe:

  • Never leave kids unattended. This goes for older children, too. Your future bake-off champ should always be supervised when cooking or heating something.
  • Opt for backburners when cooking on the stove top. If you must use front burners, turn pot and pan handles toward the wall.
  • Skip the festive tablecloth. Little fingers love to reach, and a tablecloth is easy to pull down—along with hot foods.
  • Clear the decks of hot items. Keep hot items (hot chocolate, coffee, tea, soup, sauces, etc.) away from the edge of tables and countertops.
  • Don’t tote hot foods and kids at the same time. You should also avoid holding or carrying hot foods when kids and pets are underfoot.
  • Set up a kid-free zone. Make sure kids know to stay a safe distance from stoves and appliances.
  • Ensure big kids know how use the kitchen responsibly. Drive home the importance of using an oven mitt properly and to never leave a cooking project unattended.
  • Share the gift of microwave safety. Make sure your child understands the dangers of steam. If your microwave is mounted under a cabinet, don’t allow children to use it until they can safely reach it.

What are the types of burns?

When it comes to burns, it’s all about degrees based on how deeply the skin is harmed. The higher the degree, the worse the burn.

  • First-degree burns, or minor burns, are the most common and least severe. They affect only the outer layer of the skin and cause minimal damage. (Think a quick touch of a hot cookie sheet or splash of hot water.) Symptoms, which should only last 2 to 3 days, may include:
    • Pain
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Dry or peeling skin after 1 or 2 days
  • Second degree burns affect the outer and second layers of skin. These burns are painful and typically cause blisters. Damaged skin will look very red or splotchy. Second-degree burns typically heal in 2-3 weeks.
  • Third- and fourth-degree burns damage all layers of the skin and require immediate emergency care. The skin will appear white or charred. There may be little or no pain because of nerve damage. 

What should I do immediately if my child burns themself?

When a minor burn occurs, the first step is to release the heat from the skin. 

  • Remove any clothing that covers the burn. 
  • Run cool water over the burn for 10-15 minutes. 
  • If running water isn’t available, submerge the burned area in cool water or apply a cool, wet compress. 
  • Never treat a burn with ice or ice water. Extreme cold applied to a burn can further damage the tissue.

What is the best aftercare for minor burns?

Most minor burns can be treated at home and will get better on their own. A few simple steps will help make your child more comfortable and ensure the burn heals properly.

  • Clean the burn gently with soap and water.
  • Leave blisters intact to prevent infection.
  • Place a thin layer of ointment, such as petroleum jelly or aloe vera, over the burn. Avoid lotions or creams.
  • If needed, cover the burn loosely with a sterile, non-stick gauze bandage. Don’t use cotton balls or gauze bandages. Fibers can stick to the burn and cause infection. Change dressings daily.
  • For pain, reach for ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol) or naproxen (Aleve).

Are there home remedies I can use to treat a minor burn?

Sorry, Aunt Martha. Your emu oil burn cure may have been passed down for generations, but there’s just no evidence it works. 

Most burn remedies are ineffective, and some may worsen the burn and increase the risk of infection. When looking to soothe a burn, avoid these remedies:

  • Butter, lard or other fat
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Toothpaste
  • Oils, including home cooking oils and essential oils
  • Antiseptic agents, such as hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar

When should I go to urgent care for a burn?  

It’s always a good idea to get a burn checked out if you have any concerns. The friendly providers at Indigo Health will evaluate your child’s minor burn and recommend treatment to relieve pain and speed healing. We’re here 8 am to 8 pm every day, including holidays.

We pride ourselves on providing convenient hours, locations and services, along with refreshingly fast and friendly care. But we also understand a visit to one of our Indigo clinics may not be easy or convenient, especially this time of the year. Indigo Online Care is a great option when you or your kiddo has a minor burn or other common illness or condition. Video visits with a provider are available 8 am to 9 pm seven days a week, and E-visits are available 24/7.

Go to your nearest emergency department for treatment if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • The burn is getting worse (fever, redness, oozing and increased pain)
  • The burn is larger than your hand.
  • Blistering occurs or skin is sloughing down to muscle or bone.
  • The cause of the burn is chemical and electrical.
  • Burn is on face, hands, scalp, joints or sensitive or thin-skinned area.

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