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Hot Topic: February is Burn Awareness Month

Did you know that 80% of burn injuries occur in and around the home?  National Burn Awareness Week is February 6-12, 2011.  The Downers Grove Fire Department has prepared the following tips/facts to help keep families and children in particular, safe from burns in the home.

The most effective tool to prevent young children from receiving scald burns is adequate and continuous supervision.  Adults should teach children where they can and cannot safely play. 


  • Keep hot fluids away from children. Children under five are at the highest risk for burns caused by hot fluids. 
  • Most scald burns happen in the kitchen when liquids spill from the stove or microwave, as well as on or around the kitchen table, counters and sink.
  • Teach children not to play within three feet of the front of the stove. This is a common place for children to be burned by spilled hot liquids.
  • Avoid the use of tablecloths and place mats; they're tempting for children to pull on, possibly causing a spill of hot food or liquid.  
  • Exercise appropriate supervision; Keep children away from "risk areas".


The bathroom is the second highest risk area for scald burn injuries in the home. Most injuries are directly related to the temperature of the water delivered from the water heater. 

  • Water heater thermostats should be set at a maximum of 120 degrees F. If it is not possible to reduce the water heater temperature, use of a thermostatically controlled valve/faucet should be considered. 
  • The best way to test bath water is to submerge the hand, spread the fingers and move the hand vigorously in the water. If the water feels uncomfortable to the hand, it is too hot for a child. 
  • Generally, babies should not be bathed in water above 100 degrees F and young children in water above 104 degrees F. Tepid water is at a temperature low enough that the water feels wet, not cold or hot. This is the best temperature to bathe babies. 
  • The skin of young children is thinner than that of adults and thus there is an increased risk of scalding. 

Types of Burns and Emergency Care

First Degree burns are the least serious type of burn and affect only the outer layer of skin.  They cause pain, swelling and redness, similar to sunburn.

Second Degree burns affect both the outer and underlying layer of skin. They cause pain, redness, swelling and blistering.

Third Degree burns extend into deeper tissues. They cause white or blackened, charred skin that may be numb due to nerve damage.

First and second degree burns that are smaller than the size of a quarter can usually be treated at home.

  • DO: Remove all diapers and clothing from around the burn area as these will retain heat, increasing the damage to skin.  If material adheres to the skin, cool the area with cool water and seek medical attention.  Jewelry and metal, such as belt buckles and zippers, also need to be removed.
  • DO: Run cool, not cold, water over the burn area for a few minutes.
  • DO: Keep the area clean to prevent infection by gently washing with mild antimicrobial soap several times a day.  Rinse thoroughly. 
  • DO: Lightly cover the burn area with a clean, dry cloth
  • DO NOT apply ice to the burn; Ice can make the burn worse. 
  • DO NOT apply creams, ointments, or salves. 
  • DO NOT break any blisters until seen by a physician.

Consult with your family physician or local burn center if the burn does not heal in two to three days or if signs of infection appear.

Electrical Burns

Electrical burns may be caused by household current, outside power lines, certain batteries or lightning.  Such burns may cause additional damage below the skin's surface.  In providing emergency care for persons with electrical burns, keep the following in mind:

  • Protect yourself!  Do not touch the victim until you are sure the power has been disconnected, the plug disconnected from the source, or the patient is free from the electricity.
  • Once the victim is free from the source, treat the burns as described above.

Electricity can cause the heart and breathing to stop.  CPR may be necessary.  Do not hesitate to call 9-1-1.

Chemical Burns

Chemical burns can be caused by contact with gasoline, household cleansers, lawn products, fresh cement, or other chemicals.  Provide emergency care by doing the following.

  • Gently brush any dry chemicals off the skin.
  • Flush affected area with running water for at least 20 minutes or until emergency personnel tell you to stop.  If the affected area continues to burn, continue to flush until the pain stops.
  • If eyes are involved, continue to flush until help arrives.
  • Remove any contaminated clothing.

 When to Seek Medical Attention 

  • All chemical and electrical burns should be seen by a physician - damage might not be immediately obvious. All burns on the face, hands, feet, major joints or genital area should be considered serious and need to be evaluated by a physician.
  • Burns occurring in an enclosed space, such as a house or car, should be evaluated because there may have been smoke inhalation.
  • Burns that are white, gray, leathery, or painless should be considered serious.
  • Burns bigger than the person's palm should be evaluated by a physician.