Summer fun and sun means increased risk for sunburns and other burns to the skin which may be caused by heat sources like the backyard grill, July 4th fireworks and outdoor fire places. And did you know that chemicals, such as pool chlorine and household products, can also inflict burns to the skin?
As part of our Emory Johns Creek Hospital “Know When to Go to the ER” series, the below you’ll find an overview of some common types of summertime burns, tips on treating minor burns at home, and warning signs that mean a burn may warrant emergency treatment.
Why Is Sunburn Protection Important?
The skin is the largest organ of the human body and plays a key role in protecting our bodies from infection, regulating our internal temperature, and allowing us to feel sensations. Because of the skin’s important role in our general health and wellness, it’s understandable why it’s important to protect the skin from sunburns. Sunburns cause general discomfort that we’d all like to avoid, but sunburns can also lead to long-term skin damage, accelerated aging of the skin ( including wrinkles, freckles and age spots), and even the development of skin cancer.
Only about 25% of melanomas come from a pre-existing mole, and about 75% of them occur in areas in which there was previously normal looking skin. Once sunburn happens, there are ways to treat the symptoms of the burn, but the damage to the skin has already been done.
To prevent sunburns and avoid long-term damage to the skin, make sunscreen a part of your daily routine, even on cloudy days. Look for a sunscreen with a minimum SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30, and search for a product that provides coverage against A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Always read the instructions, and re-apply as directed. A good rule of thumb is to reapply at least every two hours, or more frequently if you’ve been swimming or sweating. In addition to sunscreen, try to catch a patch of shade while you’re outdoors and wear hats, shirts or cover-ups to provide additional sun protection.
If you do manage to burn, drink lots of water to rehydrate and apply aloe vera to the affected areas. You can ease the pain with cold compresses or bathe in lukewarm water. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can also help with the pain and reduce inflammation. Seek medical attention if the skin blisters after a sunburn or appears white when applying pressure to the area, or if the affected area goes numb. These may be signs of a more severe burn.
Summertime Burn Treatment
Similar to sunburns, burns sustained from grills, outdoor fireplaces, fireworks and other heat sources can range from mild and irritating to serious and life-threatening.
Burns are classified in terms of their degree: first, second and third. First-degree burns affect the top-most layer of skin (epidermis) and create redness, swelling and pain, whereas second-degree burns, which penetrate into a deeper layer of the skin (dermis), create pain, redness and swelling, as well as blisters. The skin around second degree burns turns white when pressure is applied to the area. First degree burns are typically dry burns, whereas second degree burns are typically wet. Third-degree burns sear through all layers of the skin into the fat layer and can create permanent nerve and tissue damage. These burns can appear leathery or waxy.
Seek immediate medical attention for major burns, including third-degree burns, second-degree burns larger than three inches in diameter, burns that cover a major joint or completely cover the hands, feet, face or groin. Always seek medical attention for chemical and electrical burns. Also seek medical treatment for infants, who can be affected by burns differently than small children or adults. Until you reach emergency help, or help reaches you, do the following:
- Remove any tight clothing, but do not remove clothing from the burned area.
- Rinse the area in cool or cold water, carefully dry and place a loose sterile cloth on the area.
- Keep the burned area above heart level
- Keep as still as possible until you reach care.
Now that we’ve taken a closer look at burns and the types of burns that may warrant a trip to the Emergency Room, make sure you’re also familiar with the 10 medical conditions that warrant a 911 call or trip to the emergency room, as defined by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) .