Cooking a pot of beans hardly seems like a hazardous activity. Neither does fixing your boat, grilling a burger, making a cup of tea, lighting a candle or relaxing around a fire pit.
Yet all of these actions have resulted in serious burn injuries seen at South Miami Hospital’s Burn Center , which provides comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services.
“People underestimate the dangers of many activities, for sure,” said Ricardo Castrellon, M.D. , the burn center’s medical director. “It’s a very common mistake. I see it all the time.”
Every 60 seconds, someone in the United States sustains a burn injury serious enough to require treatment, according to the American Burn Association . Hot liquids from bath water, drinks and even microwaved soup can cause devastating injuries. Cooking accidents are all too common, as are incidents involving barbecue grills, candles and campfires that ignite clothing, and engine fires fueled by gas fumes.
In an effort to prevent such injuries, the first week of February is designated National Burn Awareness Week , a time when advocates try to spread the word about precautions to keep people safer  (see advice, below). Those tips hit home, Dr. Castrellon said, but in South Florida there are additional considerations because burn risks are influenced by our culture and climate.
“No one is really talking about pressure cookers, but we see a lot of burns when something goes wrong with those,” Dr. Castrellon said. “So many of our patients say they were cooking beans in a pressure cooker.”
Dr. Castrellon also noted that mild winter weather in South Florida results in many burns from fire pits and campfires, the kind of injuries that generally are seen mostly in the summer in other parts of the country. Injuries from barbecue grills, both gas and charcoal, are also more common in the winter months here than in colder climates. “In South Florida, it’s barbecue season all year round,” he said.
When a burn injury occurs, it’s important to have it evaluated as soon as possible by medical professionals to reduce the risk of infection, promote healing, minimize scaring and preserve functionality. “You should not underestimate the seriousness of burns,” said Dr. Castrellon, who is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. “Things that would not need surgery and could be treated easily can end up becoming surgical situations without prompt evaluation.”
In particular, burns to the hands, feet, face, genitals and joints require immediate medical attention. “Even if it is a small burn, it should be evaluated because these burns can get complicated fast. It’s better to err on the side of caution,” he said.
Dr. Castrellon advises against home remedies to treat even minor burns. “I’ve seen all kinds of things,” he said. “People put butter on it, or they think aloe will fix everything. Some people put toothpaste on burns, which is strange but seems to be a cultural thing. Another bad idea is to use ice directly on the wound. It might feel good because it numbs the pain, but it damages the tissue.”
The best initial first aid treatment for burns is to run cool water on the injured area for three to five minutes to halt the burning process, then cover the area with a sterile gauze bandage or clean cloth. Do not use any butter, ointments or other home remedies on a burn, as such substances may trap the heat in the tissue and makes the burn worse. Watch closely for any signs of infection, such as redness that extends beyond the border of the burn. And always seek medical attention if a burn on any part of the body is larger than the person’s palm. Never remove any clothing that is sticking to a burn as it could cause further damage and infection.
Some safety tips to consider from the American Burn Association, U.S. Fire Administration and other experts:
- If you use a pressure cooker, make sure it is in good working order and that you closely follow the pot’s directions. Check the valves and seals regularly.
- In the kitchen, use the back burners when you cook, if possible. Turn pot handles towards the back of the stove. This will prevent spills from overturned pots and pans containing hot food or liquids.
- Never use wet oven mitts or potholders as they can cause scald burns.
- Open heated food containers slowly, away from your face. Hot steam from the container can cause burns.
- Never hold a child while cooking, drinking or carrying hot foods or liquids. Keep young children at least 3 feet away from any place where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.
- When grilling, never add charcoal starter fluid to coals that have already been ignited.
- If you are using a gas grill and the flame goes out, turn the grill and the gas off, then wait at least five minutes to re-light it in order to avoid a dangerous build-up of gas.
- Make sure the gas grill is shut off and completely cooled before covering it after use.
- Use long-handled grilling tools to give the chef plenty of clearance from heat and flames.
- To avoid scalding, set your water heater thermostat to deliver water at a temperature no warmer than 120°F. Always double test the temperature of bathwater before immersing a child or yourself.
- If you own a dishwasher, be extremely careful when opening the washer door after a cleaning cycle has ended. Dishwashers generate a significant amount of steam that could be dangerous to children standing nearby.
- Do not wear flowing clothes around candles of other sources of fire.
- Teach children to stop, drop and roll if their clothes catch fire.
For more information about burn treatment or to make an appointment for follow-up care, call the Burn Center at 786-662-2876 (BURN).