Sep 24, 2013 — Which burns can be treated at home, and which requires a professional's attention? Burn specialist Dr. Stephen Morris distinguishes between the different types of burns and discusses burn prevention.


Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Host: At a family barbeque, everybody's laughing and having a good time. You lose track of the three year old for a couple seconds. They lean into the barbeque grill and they get burnt. How bad is really bad, and what should you do if that happens? Dr. Stephen Morris, medical director for the University of Utah Burn Center is going to help us answer some of those questions. First of all, when it comes to burns, what's bad, what's really bad and how do I know as a normal person?

Dr. Stephen Morris: We look at burns maybe a little differently than you might in the community. We know they all hurt, but in fact, the worse they are sometimes the less they hurt. If it is your fingertip it's going to hurt a lot or your palm or if you step on some hot pavement and have a small area on the bottom of your foot, even though that hurts a lot, it's probably going to heal because it's partial thickness or second degree burn. That is, it doesn't go all of the way through the skin, so there's enough there to heal back. However, if a little kid falls into a fire, into a barbeque pit, and has very deep burns that are basically numb because not only is the skin burned, but the nerves are burned too, those can be some of the worst.

Host: So if you're touching it and it's numb that's a sure sign that you probably should go to an E.R. or call 9-1-1?

Dr. Stephen Morris: That's right.

Host: Okay. First degree is least dangerous and third degree is most dangerous.

Dr. Stephen Morris: Correct.

Host: If it's just a second degree burn what do I do to treat that?

Dr. Stephen Morris: Cleanliness is an important thing because if it gets dirty, if it's not well cared for infection will get started. You can get infection that spreads beginning at the burn out to areas that are not burned.

Host: It's a painful thing. Do you use just soap and water? What do you use to clean it?

Dr. Stephen Morris: Soap and water is a great thing. Just wash it off with a washcloth, soap and water, and put a little burn ointment or a band-aid on it if it's small. If it takes more than that you ought to get in to see a doctor.

Host: Okay. I'm going to draw an analogy here. For your ears an airplane would produce so many decibels of sound which they would say that's very dangerous to your hearing. Are there things around the house you could look at like that boiling pot of water and go, "That's going to generate probably only a second degree burn if it contacts the skin for a second." Is there any way that you can judge the dangers in your house?

Dr. Stephen Morris: Yes, we normally don't check the temperature of the bath or of water on the stove. If it's bubbling at this elevation you know it's going to be close to 190 or 195 degrees. That in a matter of a second or less is going to cause a very serious burn. We recommend that you check your water temperature. You can use a candy thermometer early in the morning, turn the water on long enough for it to heat up and check the temperature. Make sure that it's less than 130 degrees.

Host: A lot of times it's kids that are getting burned, and a lot of times those burns are happening in the house. Let's talk prevention for a second.

Dr. Stephen Morris: Sure, we would much rather see safe and healthy children than have to take care of them here. For that reason it's important that you remember the kitchen and the bathroom are two of the most dangerous and perhaps even deadly places in the home for a number of reasons. Burns are really near the top of that list. When there's a small child they should not be left unaccompanied in the kitchen particularly while cooking is going on or in the bathroom particularly when there is a tub full of hot water and the potential for tap water which could cause serious burns.

Host: Or curling irons.

Dr. Stephen Morris: Curling irons are all over the place. Treadmills are another danger in the home that people don't think about. Friction burns can happen basically instantaneously and you have to make sure that little children won't be sticking their hands under that whirring belt. We think about treadmills making us healthy, but they can also hurt us.

Host: You don't think of burns coming from a friction burn. That's a great point. What are some sources of friction burns that you might want to watch out for?

Dr. Stephen Morris: Well, I think that certainly treadmills are something that we see a lot of, bicycles, motorcycles, any place where there is a very rapidly moving object near a not so rapidly moving kid, that's danger.

Host: What other causes of burns have you seen here that might surprise a regular person?

Dr. Stephen Morris: I think most people think about fireworks, barbeques and fire pits. Despite the fact that everybody knows about it we still see little kids that are injured. I suspect probably a good rule of thumb is when you're around dangerous environments like that a kid under the age of two ought to be attached to an adult.

Host: What's the one take home that you would offer to our listeners at this point?

Dr. Stephen Morris: Many things in our lives we take for granted, such as a boiling pot of water or the radiator of a car, but a second or two tipping that pot of water or popping the radiator cap off can change your life unalterably forever, so always be aware.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation and medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

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