Cookouts, fun in the sun and yummy s’mores around the campfire — summer is filled with good times, family and friends. But all that fun doesn’t come without hazards.

According to the CDC and American Burn Association, burns are a leading cause of accidental injury in the U.S., accounting for over 450,000 serious burn injuries a year. Stay out of the emergency room this summer by knowing the burn hazards and making safety a part of your summer plans.

The burn basics

Burns are classed as first, second and third degree burns based on depth of the tissue injury. For most burns, the depth of tissue damage can vary throughout.

First degree — Minor, first degree burns don’t go beyond the superficial layers of the skin.

Second degree — More serious burns cause blistering and go deeper through the layers of the skin.

Third degree — These are full-thickness burns. They are not generally painful in themselves since the nerve endings have been burned. Any accompanying pain comes from the surrounding areas, not the burned tissue itself.

Fourth degree — These burns extend through all the layers of skin and into underlying tissue, muscle or bone. It is deep and can be life-threatening.

Are you at high risk for burns?

Anyone exposed to flames, hot surfaces or the hot summer sun can get burned. But there are three groups of people who are at even higher risk.

  1. Children — The third leading cause of death in young children is burns. Youngsters are most likely to hurt themselves around a campfire toasting s’mores or by pulling a pot off a camp stove and spilling boiling water on themselves. Children under five are also more at risk for deeper burns due to the thinness of their skin.
  2. Older Adults — Changes in eyesight, mobility, slower reaction time and decreased coordination and sensation can put older adults at an increased risk for burns. Aging skin is also more prone to damage and has a reduced ability to repair itself.
  3. Intoxicated Adults — We know not to drink and drive, but drinking and grilling or hanging out by the campfire can also put you at risk. Alcohol decreases reaction time and coordination which can make an accidental burn more likely.

    Excessive alcohol consumption may also be a risk factor for sunburn. In a study done in Texas, beachgoers who reported drinking alcohol had a more sunburn and blisters than participants who did not drink.

Barbecues, campfires and fire pits

Whether you’re a grill master, campfire queen or fire pit extraordinaire, accidents around open flames are far too common. Keep these tips in mind when using a fire pit, barbecue grill or campfire.

  1. Keep kids and pets away from the cooking area (at least 3 feet)
  2. Supervise children around recreational fires
  3. Place the barbecue, fire pit or campfire in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures, especially wooden construction that can ignite
  4. Never burn anything in, on or under a garage, breezeway, carport, porch or deck
  5. Before using a gas grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel
  6. Make sure coals are cold before disposing of them
  7. Don’t wear loose clothing while cooking
  8. Use barbeque utensils with long handles
  9. Always have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher handy (do NOT use water to put out a grease fire)

Just in case — Emergency burn care

Any burn causes pain, but do you know when a burn needs professional treatment? Seek immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1 or getting to the nearest emergency room for any burn blistering within 10 — 15 minutes of the injury.

No burn is “Too Small”. If you suffer a burn, seek help, even if it’s day two or three. That way a professional can help get the skin to heal the right way and expedite the medical healing process.

When the sun burns

You’ve heard it time and time again, wear sunscreen. But even when it’s used, many people are not using enough to get the amount of sun protection on the label. Most adults need about one ounce (a shot glass) of sunscreen to cover their whole body. Also, the FDA requires that sunscreen retains its original strength for up to three years. After that, you should discard any remaining product. And of course, practice the basics of sun safety including:

  1. Using SPF of 30 of higher
  2. Applying sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure
  3. Reapplying every two hours
  4. Wearing protective clothing such as a hat and sunglasses
  5. Seeking shade

When too much sun becomes an emergency

Most sunburns usually resolve within a few days. Cool compresses, aloe vera gel, calamine lotion and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can help relieve some discomfort in the meantime.

If you have severe sunburn with widespread blistering, pain or the following symptoms, head to the emergency room for treatment.

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

This blog post first appeared on June 16, 2021 on HCA Midwest's blog.