As we head into December, there will be lots of activities involving light and heat. We’ll do even more holiday cooking, light candles, make fires, fiddle with the furnace, and pull out all those strings of lights and other electronic gadgets. While we try to be careful and take appropriate safety precautions, accidents do happen, including burns. There’s lots of “common knowledge” about burn care that may or may not be accurate. Check out our guide to burn care and treatment to get the facts straight.
Don’t Butter That Burn
A folk remedy dating back to the 19th century, many people have heard the suggestion that you should put butter or another greasy substance on burns. Unfortunately, this is bad advice. Putting butter on a burn can trap heat in the skin, delaying healing and increasing pain. It is also not sterile and could cause infection. It is better to apply cold water to the burn to reduce heat quickly.
Even More Cold Water
Most people know that you should run cold water over a burn, but many of us haven’t read the fine print. Commonly, people only keep their burns under water for a minute or two, but this may not be enough. To really cool the burn down, you should apply cold (but not ice cold) water for 5 to 15 minutes. You don’t have to run the tap for that whole time, though. You can use a tub or other container to submerge the burn, or you can apply a clean, wet cloth to the area.
A big caution for this method: you should only apply cold water to minor burns where the skin is not broken. Water could carry bacteria that could cause infection in an open wound.
Leave the Blisters Alone
More serious burns may cause your skin to blister. It is tempting to want to pop these blisters, and you may feel that it will help them heal faster. But you have to resist that temptation. Popping the blisters could lead to infection and complications in healing.
Remove Hot Clothing and Jewelry
When you or someone else gets a burn, remember to remove rings, bracelets, watches or other jewelry near the burn site right away. If the injury swells, jewelry could get stuck and become very painful.
Both clothes and jewelry should be removed if they are hot or burning. Cooling a burn is extremely important, and you don’t want these items to get in the way of that.
Make Sure Your Tetanus Shot is Current
We normally think of tetanus in relation to injuries with rusted metal, such as stepping on an old nail. However, burns (as well as some other types of injuries) can also make a person vulnerable to tetanus. Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date so that if you do get burned, you will have one less thing to worry about.
When to Go to the Doctor
Most minor to moderate burns will heal on their own and don’t require a trip to the doctor. However, complications can happen. Call your doctor if you develop large blisters (bigger than a pinkie fingernail) or notice signs of infection like increased pain, redness, and swelling. You should also see a doctor if a burn is large, even if it is minor.
For seriously burns, of course, you should take the person to the hospital or call 911. Do not put cold water on serious burns as it could induce hypothermia. If possible, remove the person from contact with hot or burning materials and remove jewelry as described above. Elevate the burn above heart level and cover it with a clean cloth or cool, moist bandage if you can. Use a material that will not stick to the burn.
What steps do you take to prevent burns? Don’t forget to like and share!