July 2011 Archives

July 28, 2011

Do Your Children Know How to Avoid Severe Burns When Away from Home?

In San Jose, CA in late June, a five-alarm fire roared through a college fraternity house. One student said he awoke around 3 a.m. to screams and chaos: "I heard people screaming that there was smoke in the house and to get out," he said. "Everyone was screaming--we went to all the rooms, knocking on doors" before getting out of the house.

Another student had just bought new furniture in anticipation of spending his summer at the house. His room, along with others on the second floor of the house, was destroyed in the fire. In fact, the blaze displaced 28 people and caused an estimated $1.7 million in damage, but everyone who lived there did emerge safely because of the shouts and warnings from other occupants.

The American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the 28 people who were displaced. San Jose State University set up a relief fund for the displaced students and those interested in donating to the fund can do so at www.sjsu.edu/advancement/giving.

The fraternity house, owned by university alumni, might have caught fire because of a situation in the laundry room--it could have been an electrical wire or a fuse-box problem, or even something as simple as the lint trap in the clothes dryer becoming too full and then overheating. Full lint traps are common causes of house fires.

The lesson from this story is that even when kids are properly taught fire safety at home, once they go to college or into an apartment of their own, there are outside factors that they have to think about when it comes to staying safe from fire, severe burns, and smoke inhalation. Fortunately, the kids in this fraternity house knew to go around to all the rooms and yell and bang on doors while it was still safe to do so. Then, as the fire got bigger, they knew where the exits were. This are two things all kids should be taught by their parents.

Kids need to know that a lot of things are out of your control once you go out into the world, and you have to plan ahead with things like fire safety so that you do the right things if a fire or other safety emergency ever comes up.

July 26, 2011

Everyday Activities Can Become Situations That Cause Severe Burns

In early July in upstate New York, a 48-year-old Yates County man was seriously burned when a tractor-trailer caught fire while he was fueling it. The local newspaper reported that James Moore of Dundee was flown to the Kessler Burn and Trauma Center at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester after the accident in the town of Benton. The hospital listed him in satisfactory condition hours after he was admitted, which was lucky for Moore.

Sheriff's deputies say Moore was pumping fuel into the big truck when the passenger side he was standing on caught fire. Moore suffered severe burns to his head, face, neck, chest and arms. Firefighters from two departments quickly extinguished the fire.

While the cause of the fire was not immediately determined, this incident provides a memorable lesson for everyone: Some of the most routine things we must do each day can pose a fire hazard, or cause a second-degree or even a life-threatening third-degree burn. Here are just a few examples:

--Using a charcoal or gas grill in areas that have an uneven floor, or are too small to move around easily, or which are enclosed. Also, using too much lighter fluid to start the grill.

--Leaving food unattended on a stove, even for a minute or two

--Placing clothes in a dryer without making sure the lint trap is cleaned out

--Not checking the temperature of faucet or bath water before you allow a child near the water

--Leaving kids in a car for any length of time during a hot day while you run into a store

--Allowing children to run barefoot on pavement or even beach sand on a summer day

--Pumping gas into your car while smoking (or simply being too rough with the fuel nozzle, which can cause a spark and ignite the gas fumes too)

--Smoking a cigarette during dry times of the year; even a small ember can ignite a fast-moving grass or leaf fire that can spread to nearby buildings

These are just a few of many, many possibilities we face in everyday life where a fire can occur. But if you give just a little thought before you do anything involving a fire or heat source, you will greatly lessen the chances of getting burned, or of anyone around you getting burned or suffering smoke inhalation.

July 22, 2011

Summer Grilling and Cookouts Can Result in Severe Burns

On July 11, dozens of residents of Quincy, Massachusetts were driven out of their apartment complex and one firefighter was injured in a Saturday night fire that officials say was ignited by an illegal patio grill.

The fast-moving fire began at about 9:30 p.m. It quickly spread from the second-floor patio to the building's third floor, which was completely destroyed by the flames. What's more, the first and second floors suffered severe water and smoke damage.

The next morning, firefighters were still dousing embers at a building that once contained 12 apartments. None of the people living in this building at the Faxon Park Apartment Complex were injured, but all have been displaced. The Red Cross is assisting them with temporary shelter.

Now, the lesson here is one you might not want to hear--especially in summertime when the desire to be outside and cook good food in the warm summer air is very tempting. But many precautions need to be taken whenever you are grilling over a charcoal fire or a propane-fueled fire, in order to avoid someone getting second- or even life-threatening third-degree burns.

First, the space needs to be large enough to allow for the grill and the person cooking to not be dangerously close to other people, or to the edges of the patio. A grill can be easily tipped over, and that would probably result in someone getting burned, either by charcoals or by propane gas that escapes from a ruptured tank--and those tanks do rupture more easily than you might think..

Next, there needs to be a fire extinguisher or a large bucket of water or a large wet towel nearby, in case of the fire gets out of hand and needs to be snuffed out quickly.

Just a little bit of precaution can make an afternoon or evening of using the grill for a cookout much safer for everyone who is enjoying the outdoors. And remember that grills are only for the outdoors--never use a grill indoors, as the smoke is very dangerous in enclosed spaces!

July 19, 2011

Know Your Sunscreen and Sunblock Products to Avoid Burns

Sunscreens are chemicals that are designed to be absorbed by the skin in order to form a sun barrier so you do not get first-degree or even second-degree burns (blisters). Many of the chemicals have been broken down into tiny particles so that they can be sprayed or absorbed more easily. There is clear evidence that they prevent sunburn, but there is very little known about the safety of these chemicals and their effectiveness in reducing skin cancer from sun exposure. There are also studies whose statistical evidence shows that in some cases these chemicals may actually increase your risk of cancer. There are three primary concerns with the chemicals in sunscreen:

1) They are free-radical generators which breakdown the DNA in cells and potentially make them more prone to cancer.

2) They often have strong estrogenic effects, meaning the chemicals could actually interfere with normal sexual development.

3) They are synthetic chemicals that get stored in the fat cells of the body and accumulate over time. When you apply sunscreen, you are putting these chemicals directly into your system.

On the other hand, sunblocks are products whose ingredients are primarily designed to sit on top of the skin and form an external barrier to block the rays of the sun. However, they may include many of the same chemicals as sunscreen.

Tips for Buying Safer Sun Protection:

1) Be aware that any product labeled as sunscreen contains chemicals.

2) Avoid products with the following chemicals:

-Benzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone)
-PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB, glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA)
-Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate)
-Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate)
-Digalloyl trioleate
-Menthyl anthranilate
-Avobenzone [butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane; Parsol 1789] - This is the only chemical sunscreen currently allowed by the European Community. However, its safety is still questionable since it easily penetrates the skin and is a strong free-radical generator.

3) Avoid mists and sprays. Most of the chemical ingredients in these products have been broken down into tiny nano-particles, which are more dangerous internally, and may cause risk to lungs when inhaled as well.

4) Check out the research on the brands you are considering by going to the Environmental Working Groups Sunscreen Guide. The EWG's Sunscreen Guide ranks the safety of more than 1,700 sunscreens, SPF lip balms, moisturizers and makeup. It also lets you know what kind and quantity of information is available about a given product.

5) Buy mineral sunblock whose active ingredient is zinc and/or titanium dioxide.
By definition, sunblock is meant to stay on top of the skin and block the sun's rays. It is not designed for total absorption. A good brand is Coola, which is also all natural and contains many organic ingredients as well.

Remember this: Sunscreen isn't necessarily better because it is more expensive. In fact, some of the highest-rated sunscreens are actually the store brands.

Consumer Reports tested 22 different sprays, lotions and creams. The top three on the list were Target's Up & Up Sport SPF 30 (spray), No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin E SPF 45 (lotion), and Equate Baby SPF 50 (lotion). These provided "excellent" UVB protection and "very good" protection against UVA radiation, which can cause tanning and aging of the skin.

An article in the Dermatology Times implied that the difference between a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 vs. 100 is very small, since the SPF 50 product already blocks 98% of UVB radiation from sunlight. The SPF 55 and higher formulas, however, do include Helioplex - an additive that stabilizes UVA-screening avobenzone, allowing this product to protect the skin for longer periods.

Perhaps one of the more important points about choosing a sunscreen is to find one that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. This actually sits on top of the skin forming a barrier against the sun's rays. One pediatric dermatologist we talked to says that sunscreens made with these ingredients work as a sun block and start protecting as soon as you put them on.

An Australian study also finds by using sunscreen daily you can reduce the chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by half.

If you still want specific sunscreen or lotion, check out this list from Consumer Research.

* Best Sunscreen: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 30
* Best Cheap Sunscreen: No-Ad Sunblock Lotion SPF 45
* Baby Sunscreen: Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+
* Sport-formula Sunscreen: Banana Boat Sport Performance Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 100
* Natural Sunscreen: Badger SPF 30 for Face & Body

Remember that spray lotion is much easier to put on, but it doesn't necessarily protect as well as the rub-on sunblock. The spray tends to be thinner, so you must reapply it more frequently. Do not forget to apply to the lips and ears too.

Here are some other suggestions on staying safe from the sun:

* Check the expiration date. Sunscreen that is expired or old may not be as effective as it once was.
* Do not rely on sunscreen alone. Wear protective clothing and limit time in the sun.
* Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
* Use enough. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of a lotion on most of your body, or spray as much as can be evenly rubbed in and then go back and spray completely again.

July 14, 2011

Learn About Skin Protection to Avoid Sunburns This Summer

A recent article from the Associated Press addressed exactly the type of information we want to provide to you each week in this blog. Here is a summary:

About a third of adults get sunburns each year, and most of those people actually get more than one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a bigger problem than pain, because sunburns are believed to increase risk of the most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma. There aren't good figures on how often children get sunburned, but their tender skin can burn especially easily.

While water and sand reflect ultraviolet (UV) rays and make sunburns worse, it's not just the beachgoer who's at risk. A sunburn can hit anyone--from kids playing ball to their parents watching, to the person who does gardening in the backyard.

First-degree sunburns tend to peel in a few days. But more severe second-degree burns can blister and even require a doctor's care, especially if they cover large areas or come with fever and chills. A bad sunburn hinders how well your body cools itself, so it's important to keep hydrated with plenty of water.

To self-treat the pain, take ibuprofen or similar over-the-counter painkillers known as NSAIDs within a few hours of reddening skin. Those pills fight various kinds of inflammation. But DO NOT use those pills before going in the sun; they're among a host of medicines that can make your skin more sun-sensitive!

Cool compresses can soothe a sunburn, and some patients find relief from aloe. But you don't want to put heavy ointments on, because they can trap heat in the skin.

Anesthetic sprays can numb the area, and for more serious burns a hydrocortisone cream might work well.

But to avoid getting a sunburn in the first place, take these precautions:

- Stay out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

- Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing with long sleeves and seek shade from umbrellas. At a recent dermatologists' convention, beachgoers wore long-sleeved swim cover-ups and big hats--that is a big hint for the rest of us.

- Don't forget the sunblock or sunscreen, especially on the face, hands and arms that are exposed to sun just about every day.

In my next blog post on Tuesday, July 19, I will write about the difference between sunbliock and sunscreen, and which might be best for you and your family to avoid severe sunburns.

July 12, 2011

Even After July 4th, Fireworks Are Around and Can Cause Severe Burns

Last week in a town in Indiana, a mother took her small children to a local shopping mall parking lot to watch a few different individuals set off fireworks. This was not an approved event by the shopping mall owner or the local authorities, but we all know that such things happen all the time in towns across the country, and many of us go to watch these events even though they are neither professionally run nor legally allowed.

The problem is, these non-professionals who are setting off fireworks almost never take the proper precautions to ensure that spectators do not get burned. So when one of the people setting off fireworks in that Indiana town last week accidentally kicked over a mortar while he lit the fuse, all he could do was watch as the rocket took off sideways and right into a crowd of spectators.

The result was first-degree burns on the shoulders, neck, and head for one 3-year-old girl. The mother explained that her daughter, along with four of the toddler's cousins, were sitting on two blankets in the parking lot, along with many other people watching both the legal fireworks being launched at the nearby La Porte County Fairgrounds and the illegal ones being lit in the parking lot.

The mother said the children were holding another blanket above them and pretending it was a parachute when the mortar flew between the two blankets and exploded. She said the blanket on the ground caught fire, and with the help of other relatives, she pulled the children off the blankets, which had large holes burned completely through in the middle.

What's more, the woman's 5-year-old niece sustained second-degree burns to a small area on her chest, while the mortar hit her 4-year old nephew in the face. The boy wound up with first-degree burns to his face, chest and leg.

And according to police, a 2-year-old had burn marks on the back of his shorts, while an 11-year-old had a hole in her long denim dress too.

The lesson from this incident? Because fireworks shows happen all summer long, not just on July 4th, adults should take precautions when watching fireworks shows, like staying far away from where the fireworks are bring blown off, and perhaps even carry water in large containers just in case a fire starts around the spectators. If you do this, you will then have plenty of drinking water for a hot summer night once the fireworks are over.

We must also make sure that we inform our children of the possibility of severe burns that come from fireworks, for the times that we are not with them to keep them out of harm's way. We must give them the right instruction so that the keep themselves out of danger.

July 7, 2011

Kitchen Fires Are Too Common, and Very Dangerous

In my blog post of July 5, I wrote about a restaurant fire that was caused by careless preparation by a waiter of a dessert that uses fire for visual effect. The result was two burned patrons, with one of them suffering serious third-degree burns.

But even at home, many tasks involved in cooking can be very dangerous, and you must pay attention to safety whenever you are using heat in the kitchen. Consider this: Back in late May, a man in Granby, NY, was seriously burned when he tossed meat into a hot pan. The local fire chief said that the man simply made an absent-minded decision to toss the meat into the pan from a foot or so away, and this caused a flare-up of flames that engulfed him. The man was rushed to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse with second- and third-degree burns to his face, hands, arms and back.

Then in mid-June, a Las Vegas woman was treated for smoke inhalation and a firefighter suffered a minor injury during a kitchen fire that caused $75,000 in damage. Firefighters responded to a townhouse complex to fight this fire, which started after the woman put a pan of cooking oil on the stove top to heat up, but then got distracted by a phone call.

After the smoke alarms alerted her to the fire, the woman saw that the flames had risen up to the fan above the stove--and into the air ducts. The duct work for the stove's exhaust fan ran into the ceiling, then into a wall between two downstairs condos, and across the length of the building to an outside vent. The fire spread almost instantly through those ducts because they gave fresh oxygen to the fire, which is bad.

The woman was able to warn neighbors and call 911. But smoke and flames ran through the ducts and set the wood on fire in the space between the upstairs and downstairs units, causing damage to three additional units, officials said. The two downstairs units sustained heavy fire and smoke damage, estimated at $30,000 for each unit. An upstairs unit sustained about $5,000 in damage and another unit incurred $10,000 in damage. Nine people were displaced from their apartments. And the woman had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

With kitchen fires, many people don't know how to properly extinguish them. Grease fires are actually spread and made larger by water. So the correct way to stop such fires is with a fire extinguisher containing foam or another non-water chemical, or with a damp rag placed over the fire to starve it of oxygen.

Also, many people underestimate how quickly smoke can build up and injure or kill them right in their kitchen. If a fire becomes larger than the pan it started in, it is safest to leave the room, get out of the house, dial 911, and alert the neighbors about the fire.

Lastly, it is critical to keep kids out of the kitchen when cooking. The reason: Kids are curious. They move around quickly and unpredictably, and sometimes they even think to pull on a pot handle while it is on the stove. So if you want to make sure that a child does not get severely burned or start a fire, keep them out of the kitchen while you cook!

July 5, 2011

Patrons Can Suffer Severe Burns at Restaurants

In early June, four diners were burned at a Palm Harbor, Florida restaurant, after a waiter accidentally added too much rum to the bananas foster dish he prepared at the table. Two people were flown to Tampa General Hospital Regional Burn Center for treatment of severe burns.

Employees were quick to grab fire extinguishers and help a woman whose dress caught on fire, resulting in second- and third-degree burns. "It's going to be a long time for her to heal," said a fire department spokesperson.

Bananas foster is typically prepared with bananas, butter, cinnamon and sugar in a pan or skillet. Then, rum is added and the dessert is lit on fire to reduce some of the alcoholic content, and also for visual effect.

But as the restaurant server poured the liquor into the pan at the dining table, a sudden burst of flames erupted. Caught in the blaze was the woman, a 25-year-old school teacher whose fiance's parents invited her to dinner. In this case, the fire spread quickly. Flaming rum splashed across plates and onto skin, igniting the woman's dress and sending horrified shrieks through the dining room.

One chef (and an aspiring firefighter, fortunately) raced from the kitchen, tore off the woman's burning dress and stomped out the flames. With other people, he guided the woman to a couch in the lobby and covered her with a blanket as another woman frantically called 911.

Later that night, as the woman was treated at the burn center, questions remained about whether the restaurant could have done anything to prevent the fire.

"That's not a freak accident," said a chef at another local eatery. "That's a lack of training. And using 151-proof rum is a poor management decision."

But the restaurant's owner called the fire "a terrible accident," adding that her "main concern is for the well-being of that young lady and everyone who was hurt."

The employee who helped the burning woman was working in the kitchen, prepping dishes for the dining room, when he saw the flames and ran to the table. An employee for more than three years, he also spent six months last year in the fire academy at a nearby college. When he saw the fire, he said he went into what he called "EMT training mode." "I was focused on removing her from the fire. It was all a blur from there," he said.

One family member said the next day that "this is a very traumatic time for us. It's been quite wearing...We're all a little bit numb."

Cooking recipes often warn the cooks to pour flammable liquor from a separate cup, instead of from the bottle. And Bacardi 151 rum bottles carry a warning label that states "Do not use this product for flaming dishes." Also, the spout features a "flame arrester" to prevent fires. In Florida, there are no local or state permitting requirements for flambeing dishes in a restaurant dining room.

Serious injuries from flaming dishes and drinks are rare but not unprecedented. A California woman in 1999 suffered third-degree burns when a server improperly prepared Cherries Jubilee tableside at a steak house. And a woman in London was seriously burned in 2005 when a flaming Portuguese sausage dish exploded after it was topped with rum. And two young girls were burned in Arizona in 2006 when alcohol in a hollowed-out "onion volcano" was ignited at a Japanese restaurant.