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Hear “summer” and “burns” in the same sentence and “sunburn” probably comes to mind. But that’s not the burn that Dr. Jeffrey Shupp thinks of.
“Between spring and fall, the top reasons for burns are outdoor barbecues, bonfires and fire pits,” says the director of the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the only adult burn center in the Washington region. “Most cooking accidents involve a fire accelerant, like charcoal lighter fluid, or a backflash from a leaky gas grill or jet that’s been left on too long.”
Burns Come in Many Forms
According to the American Burn Association, gas grill or charcoal fires injure about 6,000 people each year. And while it’s true that being “under the influence” can be a factor, a more common cause is a false sense of security.
“So often we hear patients say: ‘But I’ve always done it this way.’ Unfortunately, those previous, accident-free experiences can lead to a lack of caution…and a second or third degree burn.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than with home fireworks, the second most frequent source of summertime burns at the Hospital Center. Nationwide, almost half of all firework burns affect children.
“Fireworks can produce very serious injuries, sometimes even requiring amputation of the fingers,” warns Dr. Shupp who, as a six-year-old, was prohibited from ever using sparklers after a napkin caught fire at a family celebration.
It’s an important warning to heed. The National Fire Protection Association reports that a seemingly innocent sparkler can reach 1,200°F. For perspective, water’s boiling point is 212°F; glass melts at 900°F.
Fortunately, most burns in the United States are first degree—mild injuries to the superficial layer of the skin, like sunburn, that can be safely treated at home.
But up to 500,000 Americans each year need medical care for more serious burns that can be debilitating and even deadly.
LISTEN: Dr. Shupp discusses common causes of summertime burns in this Medical Intel podcast.
To avoid the emergency room and assure a safe summer for you and your family, follow these simple tips:
- Wear short sleeves or roll them up when grilling
- Use long-handled barbecue tools
- Establish a 3-foot “safety zone” around grills and open fires
- Be cautious, careful and aware of your surroundings
- Leave the fireworks in the hands of the professionals