Tragically, burns are one of the leading causes of death and injury to urban children under the age of 14 years in Southern Africa, according to statistics gathered by the World Health Organisation. The Medical Research Council reports that more than 3 in every hundred people suffer from burn injury each year, with children and infants being the most vulnerable of this group.
Children, especially at toddler age, are most susceptible to burns when they are confined to small spaces. Also, their skin is much thinner than adults’ so is less resistant to harsher burns, which can result in life-long scarring or disability.
Most burn injuries happen in the home. If we don’t take precautions and educate our children correctly from an early age about burn prevention, and the dangers of fire and heat, the risk of being burned increases.
The most common ways people get burnt in the home are by:
- Cooking with hot oil or boiling water - This is the most common cause of burn injuries in babies and young children. Usually, this occurs when the child reaches for the saucepan or frying pan containing hot oil or water on the stovetop.
- Hot drinks - Babies are often burned when they are breastfeeding and the mother accidentally spills hot tea or coffee. Curious toddlers get burned when they pull themselves up using the table where the hot drinks have been placed.
- Too-hot bath water - Sometimes children will climb into the bathtub not realising the parent has only run the hot water and still needs to add the cold.
- Using paraffin - This is the most common cause of burns to adults and children. Paraffin is highly flammable and burns easily. If the liquid is spilt the fire will spread quickly and cause severe and extensive damage.
- Heaters or fires in winter and braais in summer - This is a common way for flammable materials to catch fire. When people leave candles or fires burning and heaters on throughout the night, during the cold winter months, accidents happen.
- Faulty electrics - People get burnt from electrical faults in plugs, light switches and exposed cables.
How to prevent burn accidents from happening
- Don’t leave children unattended in the home and make sure the caregiver is a responsible adult who is trained in First Aid.
- Keep handles facing in when cooking on the stove - try to cook only on the back rings. Buy cordless kettles.
- Don’t hold a hot drink when attending to an infant.
- Put hot drinks near the centre of the table when there are small children around and stop using tablecloths at all.
- Never leave a young child unattended near a heat source - not even to go for a few seconds to the next room.
- Lower the temperature of your geyser.
- When running a bath for your child run cold water first and then the hot water after.
- Don’t leave children unattended around a braai and stop them from playing close to the braai area.
- Check for faulty electrics and fix them immediately.
- Keep a burn kit with your First Aid box in your home.
How to prevent fire accidents in your home
- Try to have smoke alarms installed in all bedrooms or and just outside those sleeping areas.
- Buy a fire extinguisher for your home and budget to get it serviced annually.
- Never leave a lighter or matches where a child can reach them.
- Make sure the paraffin stove is out of reach of children and placed on a stable and safe work area.
- Never go to bed without putting fires and candles out and switch off all heaters.
- Switch off all heaters, kettles and stoves when there is a power cut.
- Have a home fire escape plan - at least two different routes out of each room.
- Exits from your home must be clear to move through quickly and easily - don’t place furniture or other obstructions across doorways.
- Create a meeting point outside your home and share the information with your family, explaining why it would be needed.
What does burned skin look like?
A first-degree burn will appear red, painful and dry but there will be no blisters. A second-degree burn will blister and the skin may thicken. A third-degree burn will cause the skin to look thickened with a white, leathery appearance or look blackened and charred.
How to treat a burn
- Remove the person from the heat source without endangering yourself. If possible put out the fire or switch the electricity off at the mains.
- If appropriate, do Stop Drop Roll with or without a blanket, to extinguish the flames. Douse burning clothing with clean water if electricity is not involved but usually leave it to the paramedics or hospital to remove any fire-damaged clothing.
- Remove all jewellery and watches as burns swell quickly.
- If you have a burn kit, use it accordingly.
- For a first-degree burn, which means the top layer of skin is burned, run cool tap water over the injury, or use a cool compress if there is no access to running water or a Burnshield dressing.
- For a second-degree burn, which means the person has been burnt through two layers of skin, run cool water over the injury 15 to 20 minutes.
- Loosely cover the burn with a clean cloth or sterile bandage from the first aid kit.
- Do NOT use any ointments, like Vaseline, or food products, such as butter, on the burn.
- Do not break the blisters because this may cause additional pain and infection.
When to seek medical help
- For a first-degree burn or second-degree burn, it is only necessary to see a doctor if the burn site gets worse or the pain doesn’t subside after a few hours.
- You should also see your doctor if the burn area is blistered or larger than the palm of your hand.
- For a third-degree burn, the victim must immediately be brought to the hospital but cool the burn first.
If you are concerned about the healing of a burn wound, historic burns or you want to learn more about the prevention of burn accidents, contact Children of Fire at www.firechildren.org
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.