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Burning safety questions answered for summer

Adventist Health Health and Wellness

Burn Treatment 101 Infographic

As you swap out your rain coat for a tank top, Adventist Health's Emergency Department has some pointers to keep you and your family safe from burns this season. Damage to the skin caused by the sun, grilling accidents, fireworks and campfires is all too common this time of year.

Depending on the severity of the burn, you may be able treat it on your own with over-the-counter medicines and burn creams. Other more serious burns could mean a trip to Urgent Care or the Emergency Department-more than 130 million Americans visit emergency rooms in the U.S. every year.

"I see a number of kids and adults in the emergency room every summer because of a severe sunburn or accidents related to cooking and open flames," says Dr. Erik Egsieker, an ER physician at Adventist Health Portland. "These accidents can be prevented if you make safety a top priority and take the steps to keep you and your family safe."

As firework stands spring up around town and camping spots are reserved, safety should be a top priority for a fun summer.

Sun and burn safety precautions to take this summer 

Grilling guidelines for a tasty, and safe, BBQ

grilling safety

Summer block parties and BBQs present the chance to show off your grilling skills to the entire neighborhood. They're also busy and full of distractions-it's easy to take your eyes off the grill, which could put you, a family member or pet in danger. As you heat up the briquettes, remember these barbecuing safety tips before you put the kebabs on:

  • If you're using a propane BBQ, check the tank hose for potential leaks
  • Only grill on stable ground a safe distance away from the house or other structures
  • Keep the grill clean to avoid grease build-up that can lead to flare-ups and fires
  • Never leave the BBQ unattended
  • Keep kids and pets at a distance so they don't accidently burn themselves

Firework safety measures to take this Fourth

fireworks safety

The Fourth of July is a patriotic day to celebrate our independence, often marked with colorful hissing fireworks and cascading neon sparks. Before lighting off fireworks, remember to:

  • Read cautionary labels that describe what the firework will do
  • Light fireworks a safe distance from trees and buildings or structures, including decks
  • Only light one firework at a time; once it's lit, move away quickly to a safe distance
  • Dispose of fireworks by wetting them and placing them in a metal trash can away from your home or building
  • Keep pets inside and away from fireworks at all times; ensure they have an ID tag or electronic chip in case they do get out or run away

Campfire catastrophes can be avoided

campfire safety

No camping trip feels complete without a campfire and s'mores. But with fire comes risk. The best campfire circles are the ones that are safe:

  • Contain your campfire in a stone or metal fire pit away from grass, bushes and trees with low-hanging limbs
  • Keep flammable items away from the fire
  • Keep water nearby in case a gust of wind or another trigger causes the fire to grow too large
  • Check for campfire restrictions before igniting the flame. Illegal campfires carry a steep fine because they can lead to dangerous forest fires
  • Avoid inhaling dangerous campfire smoke

Sunburn safety this summer

sun safety

The sun reaches its peak heat between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and can be dangerous if you don't take precaution. To protect yourself and your family from dangerous sun rays and to prevent sunburns:

  • Avoid staying in the sun for hours on end. Look for nearby shade
  • If you must go into the sun, regularly apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15. Remember that it takes 20-30 minutes for sunscreen to activate once applied. Your lips and ears can get easily burned, so don't forget them too
  • Wear a hat and protective sunglasses
  • Remember to drink enough water
  • If you do get burned, apply Aloe Vera to ease the pain

Categorizing burn severity

  • First degree burn: as is the case with a mild sunburn, the burn site is red, painful, dry and free of blisters. It usually takes 7-10 days to heal
  • Second degree burn: the burn extends beyond the top layer of skin, causing blisters that can become infected if popped. It usually takes 2-3 weeks to heal
  • Third degree burn: symptoms vary, but include a waxy/white color, char, a dark brown color, undeveloped blisters and raised, leathery skin. These burns do not have a set timeline for healing and often result in scarring

Accidents happen. Know when to visit Urgent Care for a burn

The main medical reasons to visit Urgent Care are strep throat, sprains, cold or flu treatment, and other less serious injuries. The same is true for burns.

Minor burns that can't be treated at home and are more than 2-3 inches wide should be seen by an Urgent Care provider. That includes painful sunburns and burns from an iron or hot pan that can lead to blistering.

Get to the ER. That burn is serious

For more serious burns that can be debilitating, particularly burns to the face, eyes, ears, hands, feet or genitals, go to the Emergency Room immediately for treatment.

Depending on the size of the burn, where it's located, how deep the burn goes, and if it's infected, going to the ER may be the best decision for treatment. If there's doubt, it's better to get the burn checked out by a doctor or medical provider. Burns that get infected and go untreated can be dangerous, even life threatening, if they reach the point of sepsis.

If a burn or any other accident is potentially life-threatening, call 911 immediately.

Listen to Adventist Health's recent podcast for more advice on determining if you should go to Urgent Care or to the Emergency Room.

Common mistakes to avoid when treating a burn or trying to prevent one

  • Running the burn under cold water for too short of a time. 1-2 minutes under cold water is not enough. To help heal the wound and ease the pain, run it under water for 10-15 minutes and then apply a damp/cool towel over the area
  • Popping blisters without help from a medical care provider. While it can be tempting, popping blisters on your own can expose you to infection. It's better to let them heal on their own and through the use of medicine. If it must be popped, visit your medical care provider who can do that for you
  • Relying on a base tan to prevent burning. Spending time in a tanning bed to get a base tan is a bad idea. The human body cannot protect itself effectively from UV rays in tanning beds. Estimates show that tanning beds lead to 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year. According to Skin Cancer Foundation, more people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking
  • Skipping the SPF. Just because it's cloudy, that doesn't mean you shouldn't wear sunscreen. UV rays still penetrate clouds and can lead to a sunburn. Oregon, known for its rain and clouds, has the fifth highest melanoma rate in the country
  • Relying on home remedies. Home remedies are often ineffective and can actually prevent burns and other wounds from healing. Butter is best left on the corn cob and Vaseline left in the cupboard. Grease will actually contain the heat and slow the healing process. Vinegar, bleach and cold meat should also be avoided
  • Not keeping up to date on your tetanus shots. minor and major burns can lead to tetanus, so talk with your doctor to see if you should get a booster shot to protect yourself. Take the steps necessary to protect yourself before a burn happens

We think you're ready. Fire up the grill and lather on the sunscreen. It's going to get hot this summer!