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The do's and don'ts of burns

Monday, November 6, 2006
Just the sound of the sirens can send shivers up your spine. But, the reality is most burns don't come from big fires, they're inflicted by everyday household appliances that we take for granted.

But what's the best way to treat a burn? And when should we seek medical advice?

What's the best way to treat a burn?

It's just so easy to do — you've got a flaming hot pan, the phone rings and then before you know it you've got a really serious burn! So what should we do?

Option one: put the burn under cold running water?
Option two: rub ice all over it?
Option three: slather the burnt skin with butter?
Option four: or the "out there" option — cover it with cool, soothing toothpaste?

At the Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, Dr John Harvey tells us there's just one right way to treat a burn.

Not with butter. Nor ice. Nor toothpaste: "They are really useless for first aid. Cold running water is the only way to go," he says.

Not ice?

"Not ice," says Dr Harvey. "Ice potentially does harm to the area surrounding the burn, so it's better to lower the temperature slowly and keep the circulation going to the surrounding area. So tap water is ideal. And 20 minutes is the ideal time."

Running water's best because it continually takes heat away from the burnt skin.

So remember— first aid for burns is cold water not ice.

How to keep kids safe from burns

Kids and flames are a frightening combination. Shockingly, Australia's biggest group of burn victims are toddlers, aged one to five. Worse still, more kids are getting burned, not less.

Little ones can move like lightning as the Furness family discovered with baby Tiana

"I went to the toilet, I was gone 20, 30 seconds and in that time she must have rolled over and up against the heater. She's burnt her leg … it was second-degree, partial thickness burns," says James Furness.

The sad thing is, it can happen so quickly: a pan of boiling water on the stove, a burning oven door, a scalding cup of coffee — for littlies, they're lethal.

"The incidence of our burns has gone up rather than gone down," says Dr Harvey.

So what can we do to help prevent burns?

Greg Stead from Kidsafe can help us find out. Greg's got a few tips on how to make kitchens safer for kids.

"On this stove we have a stove guard. The barrier stops young children reaching up and getting access to the hotplates and pans on the stove ... where possible, use the back burners and turn the handles of the pots and pans inland."

The worst thing you can do is have the handles facing outwards.

Fortunately, hot oven doors can be shielded with commercially available heat guards.

"On this oven we have an oven guard. Which is a Perspex guard over the glass front of the oven," says Greg.

What's the best kettle?

"We always recommend cordless kettles. The cordless kettles have short cords and it's often very difficult to get them close to the edge of the bench," he says.

There you go — some basic tips for keeping your kids safe from burns in the kitchen.

How to prevent burns in the bathroom

The problem with a hot bath or shower is that most hot water systems are set at a sizzling 65 degrees Celsius. Ouch!

At that temperature, it takes just one second for the hot water to cause third-degree burns. At 50 degrees, the same burn will take five minutes. So, take away the danger from yourself and your kids by adjusting the thermostat on your hot water heater down to 50 degrees.

Adults can adjust the water temperature ourselves, but don't leave that job to the little ones. And always test the water temperature first — that baby skin is so sensitive it's not worth risking.

But why not go the extra mile?

Maybe install a thermostatic mixer. You can set it to 50 degrees so there's no danger of a serious burn.

Back with Greg Stead at Kidsafe House, there are a couple more cheap safety gadgets parents should know about.

One is a waterspout cover.

"That's a metal waterspout which can get quite hot when the hot water's running though it. So that [water spout cover] stops a contact burn," says Greg Stead.

"We also have, on the hot water tap itself, a cover which prevents young children from accidentally turning on the tap."

There you go, some basic tips that should help keep you and your kids safe from burns.

Remember, when there's hot stuff around don't take your eye off your toddlers for a second! Don't let you or your child become a burns statistic.

Protect your home, educate your children, and if you do sustain a burn apply cold water, not ice, for at least 20 minutes.

If in any doubt, always seek medical advice.

First aid for household burns
Are your kids safe from kitchen dangers?
Tips for keeping kids safe in the bathroom


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