Why Winter is the Worst Time For Bad Burns--And How to Protect Your Child

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There's a spike in burns during the cooler months, especially among children between the ages of 1 and 4.

Burns are common any time of year—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 300 children between the ages of 0 and 19 are brought into the ER every day for burn-related injuries. Still, there's a spike in burns during the cooler months, especially among children between the ages of 1 and 4, explains Rajiv Sood, MD, F.A.C.S, medical director of the Indiana University Health Burn Team and chief of plastic surgery at Riley Hospital for Children. That's because kids are exposed to a variety of heat sources to help them warm up during these chilly winter months—everything from a roaring fire to a mug of piping-hot cocoa. Here, Dr. Sood offers some smart tips to protect your family from burns this season.

* Keep an eye on the kitchen. Don't leave cooking food unattended on the stove or in the oven, and restrict or closely monitor your child around these appliances when they are in use. Even brushing against these extreme heat sources can cause painful burns in seconds.

* Select smart sleepwear. Flame-retardant pajamas can help keep children safe in the event of a fire, and Dr. Sood recommends dressing kids in them. Concerned about exposing your child to extra chemicals? Stick with tight-fitting sleepwear, which is less likely to catch fire.

* Check the water heater temperature. Serious scalds from hot liquids or steam tend to happen to younger children, Dr. Sood says. To help protect your kid's delicate skin, set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and always test the water's temperature before exposing your child to it.

* Be cautious around fire. Contact burns from fireplaces, bonfires, and fire pits are common among older kids, so always supervise your children when they're near an open flame. And never use gasoline to start a fire—it's not only extremely flammable, its vapors can explode and cause burns.

* Inspect your smoke detectors. Make sure there's one in every bedroom, on every level of your home, and outside of all sleeping areas, recommends U.S. Fire Administration. Test detectors monthly. Replace batteries at least once a year, and upgrade any models that are 10 years or older to keep your home in top fire fighting form.

Tips for treating burns

If someone in your family gets burned skip the ice—it can decrease blood flow to the area and potentially worsen the damage. Instead, immediately run cool water over the affected area. It'll cool it down and ease some of the pain, Dr. Sood says. Remove any clothing covering the burn, or, if it's stuck to the skin, cut away as much as you can.

If the burn is oozing, cover the area with a piece of sterile gauze, sheet, or towel, and seek medical attention. A trip to the ER may be in order if the burned area is black or turns white—this could suggest a deeper, more serious burn. Also seek medical attention if the burn is on the hands, face, or genitals, which are more vascular than other parts of the body and therefore more prone to tissue damage. "Burns to sensitive areas require meticulous care, and should be carried out in a verified burn center like Riley," Dr. Sood adds.

If your child burns the roof of their mouth with hot food or drink, sipping cool water or milk can provide some relief. You may want to offer acetaminophen or another OTC pain medication to help with any discomfort or inflammation.

-- By Bonnie Vengrow 

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