October 30, 2012

Vanderbilt burn doctors treat more patients during cold-weather months, urge caution with home heating


With temperatures falling into the 30s this week, people across the mid-state will be turning up the heat to stay warm. But, as the temperature drops, the number of patients treated by the Vanderbilt Regional Burn Center typically increases due to unsafe heating methods that result in injury.

Heating fires account for 36 percent of all residential home fires every year and are the second leading cause of all residential fires following cooking, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. It is estimated that more than 50,000 heating fires occur in the United States each year and result in 150 deaths, 575 injuries and $326 million in property loss.

Blair Summitt, M.D., Interim Medical Director for the Vanderbilt Regional Burn Center, says these fires can cause severe and even fatal injuries to occupants, with alternative sources of heat often to blame for the most tragic injuries.

“While space heaters, fire places and wood-burning stoves can help people warm their homes during the colder months, it is critical that they be used properly,” Summitt said, noting that portable heating devices account for more than 50 percent of home structure fires. “We often see more patients this time of year from preventable tragedies and encourage people to follow strict safety guidelines when heating their homes.”

Summitt offers the following tips to stay safe during the cold-weather months:

  • Heating equipment and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected annually.
  • Keep anything that can burn away from heating equipment.
  • Space heaters should never be plugged into an extension cord or power strip.
  • Throughout the year, test smoke detector batteries and always have a fire extinguisher within easy reach.

In the event of a burn injury, Summitt offers these recommendations:

  • Flush the burn area with room temperature water.
  • Don’t apply ice. It can be too harsh for burned skin and cause tissue damage.
  • “Folk remedies” such as applying butter do not help the healing process and may increase the risk of infection if the burn is severe.
  • Room temperature water alone or a very mild soap can be used to gently clean the area.
  • Keep the burned area clean and dry as it heals. The area can be covered with a light bandage if needed. A small amount of an over-the-counter ointment can be applied to keep the bandage from sticking to the skin.
  • Seek medical treatment when:
  • A burn covers a large area, especially if blistering occurs.
  • There is extreme pain or loss of sensation.
  • Burns occur to the face, eyes, hands or feet.
  • A burn involves chemicals or electricity.
  • There is smoke inhalation due to fire exposure.
  • A burn does not appear to be healing appropriately.

The Vanderbilt Regional Burn Center is a state-of-the-art, 25-bed, level I burn center dedicated to meeting the challenges of burn treatment and recovery. It serves as a regional referral center for both adult and pediatric patients and provides quality comprehensive care for burn patients. For more on Vanderbilt’s Burn Center, click here.