Protecting kids by preventing burns this winter

When the temperature drops, the number of burns treated at both The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, rises. Burns can happen in an instant, and can have serious, lifelong impacts, something 18-month-old Benjamin’s family knows all too well.

Last winter, at only six months old, Benjamin suffered third degree burns to his hand after coming into contact with his family’s gas heater. 

“It happened so fast. He was just playing on the floor with his dad when the phone rang. In the seconds it took for my husband to turn around and answer the phone, Benjamin pushed his walker towards the gas heater and grabbed it,” Benjamin’s mum, Georgette, said.

Thankfully, Benjamin’s dad knew to immediately rush him to the kitchen to put his hand under cool running water for twenty minutes.

“As a healthcare worker, I often spoke about first-aid just in case something like this ever happened so my husband how important cooling a burn under running water was.” 

Even with correct first aid, Georgette knew Benjamin’s burn was severe and rushed him straight to their local hospital where doctors confirmed that Benjamin had not only sustained third degree burns but had also lost the tips off two of his fingers and badly damaged the nerves in his hand.  

Benjamin was flown to the Burns Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead to receive specialised treatment including regular cleaning of the wound, placing his arm into a cast and ongoing occupational therapy to ensure the best outcome for movement of his hand.

Last winter, 420 children like Benjamin were treated for burns across The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick with the most common injuries caused by exposures to heaters, fireplaces and hot foods and drinks.

As this winter begins, experts are urging parents to be extra vigilant to prevent burn injuries occurring, and to learn the correct first aid so they know what to do if a burn should occur. 

“Burns are unfortunately very common in toddlers because they are so curious and move very quickly, often getting to hot items or surfaces before an adult has a chance to stop them,” Dr Torey Lawrence, Head of the Burns Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said.

“These injuries are very serious, and can cause lifelong scarring, especially if not treated correctly so while prevention is key, knowing the correct first aid to treat a burn is absolutely vital.”

The only proven effective first aid for burns is 20 minutes of cool running water

“The first step in treating a burn should always be cool running water. This can reduce the thickness of the burn, as well as the time a burn will take to heal. This method is effective up to three hours after the incident,” Dr Lawrence said.

“Never use anything else like ice, toothpaste, cream or butter on a burn – these can all make the burn worse.”

While Benjamin still requires ongoing treatment and has limited feeling in his hand, his dad’s quick thinking and first aid education, combined with the specialist treatment he received, means that his hand now looks and functions normally and doctors are confident it will continue to improve over time. 

Benjamin’s mum is now using her firsthand experience to educate her local community about the importance of first aid and the difference it can make.

“We are so thankful that we had the best possible outcome, and though we wouldn’t wish this on another family as it has been a really tough journey, the one good thing to come out of it is that we can share our story with other parents and show how important first aid education is,” Georgette said. 

“My message to parents is to take the time to familiarise yourself with first aid. In our case, my husband knowing to immediately put the burnt area under cool running water saved our son’s hand.” Georgette said. 

How you can prevent scalds in children 

  • Supervise young children at all times when they are in or around the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Keep hot food and drinks and all kitchen appliances out of reach of young children.
  • Take care when serving or walking with hot drinks when young children are around.
  • Check the temperature of the water before putting a young child in the bath.

How you can prevent other common burns in children 

  • Do not throw aerosols into a campfire or add accelerants of any type.
  • Always supervise children near campfires, fire pits and other open flames.
  • Keep all electrical equipment that heats up out of reach of children, including heaters, kettles, irons and hair straighteners. Unplug after use and store away from children.
  • Store matches and lighters in a locked cabinet or where children can’t reach them.
  • Install a heat resistant guard around heaters or fireplaces and secure to the wall or floor.
  • Only use a treadmill when young children are not in the room, install a safety guard around it and unplug after use.
  • Closely supervise children around barbeques and do not use flammable liquids.
  • Install smoke alarms on all levels of your home and close to bedrooms.

If your child has suffered a burn 

  • Use cool running water on the burn for 20 minutes.
  • Remove clothing and jewellery, if possible.
  • Call 000 or seek medical help if you are unsure.
  • Never use ice, iced water, cream, gel, toothpaste or butter on a burn as they can make the burn worse.

For further information on burns prevention, visit the Kids Health website.