CATES: Summer and burns

I am sure you can tell from my picture that I sunburn easily. I have had lunch in an outdoor café, didn’t think about sunscreen and gotten sunburned in a 30-minute lunch break. I grew up before the days where we really thought much about the future effects of sun exposure and making sure kids had on sunscreen. Because of that, I cannot remember a summer as a kid when I didn’t get a sunburn with blisters at least once. But sunburns aren’t the only source of burns in the summer. Fires from grills, campfires, firepits, and fireworks are also sources of burn injuries during the summer. Burn safety, prevention and first aid are important to remember year-round, but especially during the summer months.

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 33,000 sunburns each year are severe enough to require an emergency room visit. Research data reports that about 60% of high school students have experienced at least one sunburn each year. Most sunburns are unreported, so it is very hard for the experts to estimate the number of sunburns in any given summer. Burns from fire or other heat sources are significant as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) someone in the US is injured by fire every 23 minutes, and 1.1 million people have burn injuries that require medical attention each year. About 4,500 people die every year from burns, and another 10,000 people die each year because of infections following a burn injury.

For burns, prevention is absolutely the best cure. The best prevention for sunburn is seek shade as much as possible, wear protective clothing, wear a hat and sunglasses, and apply sunscreen frequently. A great way to remember sun safety are the words: Slip, Slap, Slop. Slip on a shirt & sunglasses, Slap on a hat, and slop on sunscreen. For sunscreens, the CDC recommends choosing a brand that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 15 or higher. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied at least every 2 hours, and more often if you are swimming, sweating, or toweling off. Sunscreen also expires, so watch expiration dates.

With campfires, firepits and grills, everyone should stay as far as possible from flames—at least 3 feet for open flames. Make sure campfires, firepits and grills are at least 15 feet away from anything flammable. Keep water nearby any fire. Remember with campfires, firepits, and grills, only use wood or recommended products from the manufacturer. Paper and trash can blow out of fires causing burns, gasoline or other flammable chemicals can cause uncontrollable flares. The biggest causes of severe burns with campfires, firepits, and grills are not the flames. It’s the embers left behind as the fire dies down. Embers can stay hot enough to burn up to 12 hours after the fire is out. The best way to avoid the issue of burns from embers is to pour water on the fire until those embers are cool.

Fireworks are also a major source of summer burns. One thing that shocked me when I first learned it was the sparklers, that we give to small children because we think they are “safer” than most fireworks, burn at greater than 1,200 degrees. That is hotter than a blowtorch. Please consider that extreme temperature before choosing to light a sparkler. Just like with campfires, firepits, and grills, keep water nearby to extinguish fires from fireworks. Used fireworks can also hold onto enough heat to cause burns so remember to handle those carefully. Keep fireworks out of the reach of children, and keep your distance when they are lit.

First aid for burns comes down to less is more. Remember the four C’s for burn first aid: cool, clean, cover, and call. Cool down the burn with cool, not cold, water. Clean the area with mild soap to prevent infection, cover with a clean cloth or gauze, and call for medical help if severe burns and/or severe pain. Its better safe than sorry to seek help with a burn, more people die from infected burns than from burns alone. Finally, never put ointments or fat based substances like butter on burns. Those products can keep heat in a burn and make it worse.