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Extreme heat is a reminder that summer is the most dangerous season of the year for burns

Extreme heat is a reminder that summer is the most dangerous season of the year for burns


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The earth is warming, temperatures are soaring above the 100-degree mark, and the chances of getting burned are always highest in the summer months. This year, doctors in states bordering Utah like Arizona and Nevada, report a sharp uptick in people falling and going down onto scalding hot pavement and asphalt where they can get terribly burned.

So far, the Burn Center at University of Utah Health has primarily seen contact injuries to children who have been on surfaces like the metal around splash pads and hot decks. As usual, the burn center is much busier than the staff there would like to be. "We see a spike of around 30 more patients per month during the June through September months. So those months, when kids are out of school and the weather is much warmer, are classified as a typical trauma season," Annette Newman (Matherly) MS, RN, CCRN said. Newman is the community outreach and burn disaster coordinator for the Burn Center.

No matter the season in Utah, the most common burn patients appear to be middle-aged men. In the summer, Newman said, "We see a lot of campfire injuries. And I originally thought it would be all kids because we see a lot of kids fall into campfires, but the reality is that it's pretty evenly spread among adults and pediatric patients."

Extreme heat is a reminder that summer is the most dangerous season of the year for burns
Photo: Aleksei Potov/Shutterstock.com

Direct contact with fire always results in more serious burns than over-exposure to the sun. However, in the summer, when many are dealing with several dangerous situations, it is critical to know what to look for and when to seek medical attention after you or someone you are with gets burned.

The severity of a burn depends on how much of the body's surface it covers and how deep it goes or how far into the layers of skin the burn damage extends. Newman explained that "If you have a first-degree injury, your skin is still present. That outer layer is typically injured by the sun or contact with heat." These types of burns can usually be treated at home without hospitalization.

Second-degree burns are the most painful because the outer layer or epidermis is penetrated, and the second layer of skin is exposed causing blisters to form. "It's oozy, it's pink and it's painful because the nerve endings are all exposed," said Newman. These are the types of injuries doctors at the burn center treat to prevent the loss of body fluids and infection.

A person who has suffered third-degree burns may not be able to feel anything in the burned area of their bodies since these injuries destroy all the layers of skin, including nerve endings. "These burns usually require surgery, especially for large areas. Patients typically spend weeks or sometimes even months in the burn center and often require multiple surgeries and reconstruction," Newman said.

The so-called burn journey is not one many have heard about or experienced, but Newman believes a better understanding of the dangers of fire might foster more education and prevention. "The journey does not end when a patient is discharged. It really is only just beginning for these patients. Psychological care is needed. In addition to body image problems, there is potentially a degree of post-traumatic stress involved in recovery."

Newman also suggested, "We haven't done a good job of teaching people of all ages that fire is hot and there can be severe consequences if you get burned. It can't be easily controlled."

Although dealing with first-degree burns may be much less traumatic, longer stretches of triple-digit temperatures and excessive heat are already sparking an increase in the number of those vulnerable to these injuries. The very young with their thin and delicate skin, and our older populations are most at risk.

Extreme heat is a reminder that summer is the most dangerous season of the year for burns
Photo: New Africa/Shutterstock.com

"Older folks can already be a little unsteady on their feet and so they get extremely hot, and they can fall. If they are laid out on hot asphalt or concrete for a period of time, they can get burned," Newman said.

Kids often have little or no control over their environment especially when they are in a stroller. Newman said. "Sometimes parents forget that they [children] can get burned very quickly and that's a real problem because they get dehydrated."

Even with new records for heat being set each summer, the old rules to protect yourself from overexposure still apply. "The importance of staying out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wearing sunscreen, and staying hydrated always remain important," Newman said.

It is also worth reminding caregivers and kids that the beginning of the school year no longer signals the end of dangerously hot weather. Even with more recent improvements to playground equipment, Newman suggests caution. "Big things to watch out for are the uncoated metal equipment or metal equipment where the heat-reduced coating has rubbed off a little bit like slides or swings that a child might sit on."

No matter the location or time of the year, the best prevention against serious burn injuries is preparation if something unexpected happens. Newman and the team at the U of U Burn Unit call it the four C's. "If somebody does sustain a burn injury then it should be cooled immediately with cool, not cold, water. It should be cleaned, it should be covered, and then a call for help made if it is needed," Newman recommends.

As longer summers and excessive heat become the norm, a better understanding of the dangers which often accompany these conditions can prevent people from getting burned. Newman shared, "Most burn injuries could have been prevented. Remember fire can burn. Playground equipment gets hot. Protect your kids and yourself."

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University of Utah Health


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