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Avoiding summertime burns

Sunburns, fire burns or direct burns — like from fireworks — are the most common cause of injuries during the summer months. E.R. Dr. Kevin Soden offers some tips to help you learn not to burn.
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Summer weekends are a great time to get outdoors, but be careful: Sunburns, fire burns or direct burns — like from fireworks — are the most common cause of injuries during the summer months. On NBC’s “Today” show, emergency room physician, Dr. Kevin Soden, offers some insight on how not to burn and how to treat one, if you do. Read some of his thoughts below.


When you get burned you damage the biggest and one of the most important organs in your body — the skin. How serious a burn is depends on the size of the burn and how deep it is. Your skin acts as a barrier to infection, and protects the insides of our body against rough treatment. When too much of our skin is disturbed, it can lead to major infections, severe scarring and even death.

WE ALL KNOW ABOUT SUNBURN DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS AND ABOUT BURNS FROM FIRES, BUT THEY’RE NOT THE MOST COMMON KIND OF BURNS ARE THEY? You’re right. Scalding burns from hot coffee or boiling water are the most common kinds of burns in children. Toddlers and pre-schoolers are commonly burned by curling irons and other household appliances that they put their hands on.

Let me give you an example of why you have to be so careful: If the water in your home is heated to 160 degrees, it can cause a third-degree burn (the worst kind of burn) in only one second, but if your water temperature is lowered to 125 degrees, it takes almost two minutes to get a similar burn.


The best way to understand how to classify burns and then to treat them is to know how the skin is made up. Burns confined to the outer layer or epidermis of the skin are first-degree burns.

A mild or moderate sunburn is a good example of a first degree burn and as many of us know, the skin will be dry, red and painful.

Second-degree burn:

A second-degree or partial thickness burn is more serious and causes blistering of the skin and gets both the outer and the inner layer called the dermis of the skin. The burn is also very painful but may appear moist. Hot liquids or fire burns are the most frequent causes with this type.

Third-degree burn:

A third-degree or full thickness burn destroys all the skin layers and can even destroy the third or fat layer that contains the blood vessels of the skin and the nerve endings so that you may not feel as much pain as with other burns. The skin looks white and dry with these burns. They are really bad burns that often require skin grafts and cause sever scarring. High-voltage electricity, chemical exposures, fires, or hot liquids can cause third-degree burns.

AND DOESN’T THE TREATMENT FOR BURNS DEPEND ON WHAT DEGREE BURN IT IS? Absolutely, it also depends on where and how much of the skin is burned as well. If you have a second degree burn larger than the palm of your hand — or involving your face, hands, feet or genitals — you should seek medical care right away.

For first and second-degree burns, you can minimize further damage to your skin and stop the pain by immediately running cool water over the burned area or by putting ice compresses on the area until the burning feelings leave. This may take as long as 15 minutes, so make sure to keep up the treatment.

You can also use aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs to help relieve pain. With simple sunburn we’ve also used aloe vera lotion or creams that are put in the refrigerator to help ease the pain. In most cases, butter, oils, lotion, or creams should not be applied.

AND WHAT IF BLISTERING OCCURS, WHY SHOULD YOU NEVER POP IT? Because it increases the risk of infection and exposes the skin to all sorts of bacteria.

So if blistering occurs, do not break or puncture the blisters because they actually protect the underlying skin. If they should break, leave the overlying skin intact. Cover blisters with clean, dry dressing after washing well with soap and water.

We also don’t recommend anesthetic creams or sprays that have words with “caine” because they can actually delay healing or cause allergic reactions. Antibiotic creams generally don’t help or hinder healing. If you see signs of infection like pus in the area, redness that’s worsening or fever, then you should see a doctor right away.

LEARN NOT TO BURN: The inappropriate use of flammable substances, especially gasoline, is becoming the number one cause of burn injuries and deaths in adults in the U.S. Unfortunately, my experience bears this out during the warmer months.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts:

Never light fire with gasoline.

Don’t add lighter fluid to fire.

Never leave barbecue unattended.

Keep flammable items away from the fire.

Extinguish coals when done.

Keep pot handles turned in.

Lock up chemicals/cleaning agents.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT FIREWORKS? They’re great to watch when handled by experts. I used to buy them for my family when I was younger, but I don’t now because I’ve seen too many bad injuries from them. They cause over 20,000 injuries per year and mostly in children between the ages of 5 and 14.

Believe it or not, 30 percent of firework injuries are caused by illegal fireworks or homemade varieties. So, if we can’t talk you out of using them, at least get them from reputable dealers.

AND MANY PEOPLE THINK SPARKLERS ARE SAFER BECAUSE THEY DON’T EXPLODE, BUT THAT’S NOT THE CASE, IS IT? Sparklers account for 20 percent of all firework injuries. Temperature on sparklers can reach 1,500 degrees, so don’t let children hold them as they can get some nasty burns very quickly.

If you do decide to use fireworks, never hold fireworks in your hand while lighting but use a long match.

Don’t use bottle rockets as they cause two-thirds of all firework eye injuries and don’t light firecrackers in metal or glass containers because if they explode, the exploding container can cause additional injuries.

Hopefully, by doing all these things, you can avoid some serious burns and keep yourself out of the E.R.

Dr. Kevin Soden is an emergency room physician at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina and the author of “The Art of Medicine: What Every Doctor and Patient Should Know.”