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Top Ten Causes of Serious Burns To Your Child

Written: 02/14/2008

Every year in the United States, more than 2.2 million people suffer from burns. Of these, close to 1 million seek emergency treatment and 3 percent to 5 percent sustain life-threatening injuries. Says Roy Alson, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Department of Emergency Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, burn injuries leave 60,000 people hospitalized each year in the United States, and over 5,000 people die from burn-related injuries.

How Burns Affect the Body

With the skin being the largest organ of the body, when it gets burned many bodily functions are compromised. Think about it; the skin:

  • Helps regulate body temperature and prevents body fluids from evaporating
  • Provides a barrier against infection
  • Contains sensory receptors that provide information about the environment

When the skin gets burned, all of these most basic and necessary functions can suffer, with one of the most serious being that the body's resistance to infection can go down tremendously. In fact, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, up to 10,000 people in the United States die every year of burn-related infections such as pneumonia. Fortunately, about 75 percent of all burns are preventable, says eMedicine's Burn Center, particularly if you're aware of the top causes of burns that exist in your home.

  1. Barbecue grills. Barbecue grills can pose a major burn risk, especially to kids. "From grills to barbecue pits, parents need to make sure their children avoid any area near an open flame," said Kim Davies, trauma manager at Children's Medical Center of Dallas. "This is especially important as you begin heating up a grill--it's not hot enough for food, but it's hot enough to burn."

  2. Clothes Irons. Irons left to cool on low surfaces are responsible for up to half of burns in toddlers. That's because they haven't yet learned that touching such objects could hurt them, and as anyone with young children knows, they'll grab onto anything they can reach. Never leave irons unattended or in places where children can reach them (or pull them down using the cord).

  3. Curling Irons. Similar to above, curling irons are tempting for young children to grab, especially when they come in bright colors. estimates that hot curling irons cause up to 45 percent of burns in small children. Adults and bigger kids can also be burned by careless use of these irons.

  4. Fireplaces. Fireplaces, particularly the gas variety, are becoming increasingly popular in homes and condos. While adults can be burned from tending to the fire or while adding wood, children may reach out toward the fireplace out of curiosity and fall against the glass doors.

    "It only takes seconds for a child to be seriously burned," says Amy Zierler, information specialist at Safe Kids Canada, the national injury prevention program at The Hospital for Sick Children. "Young children under the age of 5 years, and especially those under 2 years, are at an increased risk because they are busy exploring and are often unsteady on their feet."

    When a fireplace is in use, the glass barrier doors can reach over 400°F in only six minutes, and it takes 45 minutes for the doors to cool down to a safe temperature after the fire has been put out.

  5. Radiators. Since they're cool at times and hot at others, children may not know to keep away. Adults are at risk from accidentally falling into one. Those of you with small children and radiators in your home may want to consider screening them off, as with the fireplace and barbecue. And never put beds or cribs near a radiator.

  6. Ovens. Like radiators, ovens are hot at times and cool at others, so children may not perceive it as a risk. Be sure that children are not nearby when putting or removing items into a hot oven-remember that it only takes a few seconds for a serious burn to occur.

  7. Hot pots on the stove. Scalding burns from hot water are one of the most common burns to children and pets. For toddlers aged 6 months to 2 years, the majority of scaldings happen when hot foods or liquids are spilled onto the child. A pot on the stove looks very tempting to a curious 2-year-old, and chances are they'll reach out to grab it if they can reach it.

    Never leave pots unattended, and turn handles inward so they don't protrude out over the edge of the stove where they're easier for small hands or curious pets to get a hold of. Also, use only the back burners on the stove when possible.

  8. Coffee cups. Though seemingly innocent, a cup of hot coffee left on a table or countertop can scald a child or pet within seconds. If you've ever spilled hot coffee in your lap, you know how much it hurts, but a child is even more vulnerable to the hot temperatures.

  9. Hot tap water. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, hot tap water accounts for nearly one-fourth of all scald burns among children and is associated with more deaths and hospitalizations than other hot liquid burns. The most common place for tap-water burns is in the bathroom, such as during bath time, and the burns tend to cover a larger portion of the body and be more severe than other scald burns. Always test the temperature of the water before placing a child or pet into the tub or sink.

    These burns can be prevented by lowering the setting on your hot water heater to 120°F or below. Anti-scald devices are also available for water faucets and showerheads, the Campaign reports.

  10. Steam from microwaved foods. When removing covers from food that has been heated in microwaves, escaping steam can cause scald burns-about 95 percent of microwave burns to children are from this type of burn. Let food cool adequately before removing it from the microwave and serving it.

- Ryan

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