Injuries from burns increase during the summer due to outdoor cooking, campfires, candles, oil-burning lanterns and torches, and fireworks. On average, over 10,000 Americans seek medical attention for burns from fireworks each year.
There are four degrees of burns. This classification system is based on how bad the burn is depending on the location on the body, how large the burn and the depth.
A first-degree burn is a superficial burn, only affecting the top layer of skin. Red skin, pain and possible swelling characterize a first-degree burn. A mild sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn.
A second-degree burn will turn skin red, quite possibly blister and will hurt.
The third degree burn damages all skin layers and is very serious. Either most likely the area burned will go numb or there will be no feeling due to nerve damage. The skin will look white or charred—not red.
The fourth degree burns—not generally talked about—not only burns all layers of skin, but also the muscles, tendons and ligaments underneath. These types of burns are usually fatal.
Burns can get worse after the initial injury, so keep an watchful eye to make sure the victim does not get worse. Our skin is the first layer of defense we have to fight off infection; a burn increases that risk.
It is imperative to seek medical attention, even from a first-degree burn depending on location of the burn. If a large area on the hands, feet, face, groin, major joint or bum is burned, you should consult your doctor for treatment—same for a second-degree burn. If a second-degree burn covers the same large areas or is bigger than three inches—call your physician.
For third and fourth degree or electrical and chemical burns, call 911 immediately. For a chemical burn, remove any clothing exposed to the chemical and flush the area with cool, running water for 20 minutes. Consult with your doctor or local poison control for further guidance.
First and Second Degree
Unless the burn is large or in an area previously discussed, both first and second degree burns can be treated the same at home.
- Always remove the source of the burn.
- Run cool water over the burn for 10 to 15 minutes, or gently apply a cool compress. Do NOT use ice—it can cause frostbite and make the burn worse.
- Remove any restrictive jewelry or clothing in case of swelling.
- Apply a specific burn cream or Aloe Vera gel. Do not use any type of oil.
- Cover the burn loosely with a sterile gauze bandage.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if necessary.
- Do not intentionally pop second-degree burn blisters.
- Watch the area for infection. If the burn does not get any better, pain does not subside, it gets redder, swells further or oozes, call your doctor.
Burns may take a few weeks to heal fully. Resist the urge to scratch during the healing process—it increases your chance of infection. Change the dressing daily. Ask your doctor if you need a tetanus shot.
Third Degree Burns
Third degree burns require medical attention. However, you need to extinguish any flames, call 911 and treat the victim as best you can until help arrives.
- Extinguish the flame or remove the source of the burn. If you are on fire, stop, drop and roll. If the victim cannot help himself or herself, cover them with a heavy blanket or jacket.
- Call 911.
- Remove any smoldering clothing gently. If any sign of clothing is sticking to the skin DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE IT.
- Wrap the affected area in a sterile bandage; if the burn covers a large area then use a clean cloth, such as a sheet. DO NOT PUT WATER OR ANY OTHER LIQUID ON THE BURN. Water can lower the victim’s body temperature causing hypothermia or shock.
- Have the victim lay down
- Perform CPR if the victim is not breathing.
- Elevate the burned body part above the heart if possible.
Burns are almost always preventable, if you take the correct precautions.
- Always keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of water handy while grilling or enjoying a campfire.
- Use or make a designated fire pit for campfires.
- Before grilling or using a camp stove, check your propane tank for leaks.
- Lift the lid of the grill before lighting.
- Closely supervise children around fires and open flames.
- Do not add lighter fluid to hot coals.
- Never use gasoline as a fire starter.
Practice Firework Safety
Almost half of firework burns occur to children under 15. This Fourth of July, put an adult in charge of shooting them off or attend a professional fireworks show instead of doing them at home. If you pop off fireworks at home, follow these 13 safety rules.
- Designate one adult who sets off home fireworks displays.
- Light only one firework at a time.
- Make sure everyone is a safe distance away from the fireworks.
- Light fireworks on a solid, even surface away from homes, trees, people, brush, woodpiles, or anything else flammable.
- Do not hold lit fireworks.
- Do not point fireworks at anyone.
- Wear safety glasses while setting off fireworks.
- Do not relight duds. If a firework does not immediately go off once lit, do not approach and relight the firework. Wait a few minutes before soaking it in water.
- Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher handy.
- Never put fireworks inside a container and light them.
- Use punks or another long lighting device to light the wick on fireworks.
- Use close adult supervision when letting children play with sparklers. Sparklers burn up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s hotter than it takes to melt glass and can cause a third degree burn.
- Wear closed-toed shoes while popping off fireworks.
Do you have a fireworks safety story you would like to share? Tell us in the comment section.