Mr. Nurse – Memorial Day Safety: Burn Care and Inhalation Injuries

Memorial Day unofficially starts the summer vacation season. That means theaters are rolling out the blockbuster movies, and families are breaking out the barbecue grill.

I want to remind everyone to grill safely this Memorial Day weekend. The National Fire Data Center estimates that outside cooking grills cause over 100 injuries and at least 5 fatalities in a year. Although I hope that everyone observes safe grilling practices, here are some tips on what to do if you get burned. This content is solely for informational purposes. Always seek proper medical treatment from a physician or healthcare professional to properly assess your condition.

Burns

Grilling associated burns are generally regarded as damage to your body’s tissues caused by heat (i.e. fire). The three types of burns are first degree (damages outer layer of skin), second degree (outer layer and the one underneath), and third degree (deepest layer of skin and tissues underneath).

First Aid

First Degree – Run some cool water (not cold) over the burn for about 5 minutes. This helps reduce swelling. Do not use ice. Do not use butter or grease to coat the burn. You may use an antibiotic ointment or aloe vera cream. You can take some over the counter pain medication as needed, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen. Loosely wrap it with some dry gauze.

Second Degree – Initially, run cool water (not cold) over the burn for about 15 minutes. Care is similar to first degree burns, but you will want to see a doctor. He or she may prescribe medicinal creams. For a few minutes a day, put cool, wet cloths on the burn to help keep swelling down. After applying the creams, cover the burn with a non-stick dressing held in place with some gauze. Change the dressing every day, and wash the burn gently. Increased pain, redness, swelling, or pus are signs of infection. See the doctor right away if you experience these symptoms. Avoid breaking any blisters that form; popping blisters increases risk of infection. As you heal, your skin will start to itch. Resist the temptation to scratch the burn. Scratching will increase healing time and is also an infection risk.

Third Degree – Seek medical attention immediately. Do not run water over the wound or apply any ointments. If you can, raise the area that is burned above the level of your heart. Until medical assistance arrives, cover the burn in a cool, wet, clean cloth (a sterile bandage is preferred).

Inhalation Injury

Standing in front of a grill may seem innocent enough. However, bursts of heat and smoke (or an explosion from propane/unsafe grilling methods) while standing in such close proximity can result in significant injury.Breathing in heat and smoke can cause fatal damage to your airway, which might also become clogged and irritated from soot. Cellular damage can occur along with the deposit of harmful chemicals. Damage may result in decreased oxygen intake, bacterial infection (which can lead to pneumonia), and further risk of debris accumulation, as natural defenses like cilia (hairlike structures that act as filters in your airway) are compromised.

It’s estimated that over 50% of all burn deaths are related to inhalation injuries.

Symptoms

Eye irritation, cough, and uncomfortable breathing are signs of an inhalation injury. If you notice your face has burns, soot, or singed eyebrows, you may have suffered respiratory damage from smoke inhalation. Your mouth may develop lesions, but you also may develop lesions further down your airway that you can’t see. Furthermore, you may have inhalation burns without any obvious physical signs. Later symptoms of inhalation injury are confusion and decreased awareness resulting from oxygen deprivation.

Treatment

If you suspect inhalation injury, seek medical attention. Do not assume that you’re okay; it can take up to 12 hours before symptoms develop.

Please everyone, have a fun and safe Memorial Day Weekend. You may end up burning some burgers, but please, don’t burn yourselves.

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National Institute of Health – MedLine Plus
American College of Emergency Physicians Foundation – Emergency Care for You
Medscape Reference