It's the time of year where gas heaters, fire places, electric blankets and hot water bottles are being given a run for their money as the icy cold weather sets in and families frantically try to keep their homes warm.
It is also the time of year when children are particularly vulnerable to burn injuries, with the majority occurring in the home environment.
According to Gerhard Van Emmenis, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, ‘Burns are among the most devastating of all injuries, ranging from physical impairments and disfigurement, to emotional and mental anguish. The major cause of thermal injury is related to the use of paraffin in the home as an energy source but others including scalding due to hot water or liquids in the home. Burns can also occur from electrical sources such as faulty switches, plugs or exposed cables. It can cost up to R100 000 to treat one burn victim.’
Children are particularly susceptible, as toddlers or pre-schoolers who are mobile and confined in a small spaces in cold weather are at very high risk of thermal injury.
‘Thermal or heat related injuries are largely preventable but remain a major problem in South Africa, statistics show that as many as 256 children get burned every day. Children’s skin is thinner than adults making them particularly susceptible to harsher burns with long-term effects,’ say Van Emmenis.
One mistake or careless moment can change a family’s life forever. Annually thousands of children are admitted to hospitals suffering severe burn injuries and there are far too many deaths as a result of burns. ‘The key is prevention. Parents need to be vigilant when cooking or heating up anything in the kitchen and make sure children are supervised and kept out of harm’s way. Paraffin is particularly flammable and burns easily and, if spilled, can lead to an extensive fire. Children also need to be kept a safe distance away from heaters and stoves – ideally out of reach.’
In addition heaters should never left on all night and certainly not when the family is sleeping and flammable materials must be safely away from any heating device.
‘Toddlers are often burned as a result of reaching out and grabbing a mug or cup of hot liquid – be it tea, coffee or soup. We urge all parents and caregivers to be continually aware of the risk of hot liquid. Just as important is the temperature of bathwater – check it before putting a child into a bath, in fact preferably run the cold water first.’
Here are the top safety tips for parents to prevent burns:
Make sure the home environment is as safe as possible.
Always ensure children are in the company of trustworthy, responsible caregivers.
Never leave a child unattended near a heat source.
Ensure paraffin stoves are out of reach and on safe work areas.
Never sleep with a heater on or with a fire still blazing.
Bonitas Clinical Team advises that in the event of a thermal injury, the first step is to remove the child from the danger and ensure the environment is safe. Next, cool the burn area with cold water. ‘Do not use any other household foodstuffs on the wound,’ say Van Emmenis.
Superficial burns and scalds are when the skin is reddened and intact but there is no blistering. The cold will help remove the excessive heat from the skin and reduce the damage.
However, once blistering occurs or the burn is on the face, neck, hands or feet you need to get your child to a healthcare practitioner. The priority is to ensure the wound is cleaned and dressed correctly. Extensive burns and burns on sensitive areas require treatment in hospital as soon as possible. Do not delay, rinse the wound with cold water, cover gently and take your children to the nearest emergency unit immediately.
What is the difference between a first, second and third degree burn?
A first-degree burn is also called a superficial burn or wound. It's an injury that affects the first layer of your skin. The skin will be red and slightly swollen. As the burn is superficial, it is painful to the touch, and may resemble sunburn. Simply run cold water over the affected area for five to 10 minutes and cover the burn with a sterile dressing.
Second-degree burns or partial thickness burns affect the epidermis and dermis. They cause extreme pain, redness, swelling, and blistering. Seek medical assistance.
Third-degree burns (full thickness burns) go through the dermis and affect deeper tissues. They are extremely serious. If the burn covers a large part of the body cover it with a clean sheet soaked in cold water. Remove clothing, shoes and jewellery from the area unless it is stuck and seek medical assistance.
Treating a burn caused by a chemical
Remove any contaminated clothing and brush off any dry chemicals or residue. Wash the affected area under running water for 15 minutes then visit a doctor or hospital.
Things to avoid:
Never apply any butter or other food onto a burn.
Do NOT allow toddlers near a naked flame, heater or paraffin stove.
Do NOT leave live wires and cabling exposed in or near the home.
‘Education around prevention, treatment and changes in behaviour are crucial to reducing the high statistics of these incidents in South Africa. Be aware and vigilant and stay safe this winter,’ Van Emmenis advises.