It’s a hot summer day, and you’ve been vigilant in applying sunscreen every two hours. That means you’re protected from getting burned, right?
Wrong. While sunburn is a real threat, the hot summer sun—and the activities that often go along with it—can hurt you in more ways than one. Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, burn outreach coordinator for the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center’s internationally recognized Burn Prevention Program, breaks down other summertime hazards that can also cause serious burns.
With propane grills, the primary risk for burns is when people are determining if the gas is flowing, Dr. Grant says.
“Propane might go out, and people don’t wait long enough for the gas in the area to dissipate, so when they go to relight the grill, there can be an explosion,” Dr. Grant says. If the flame does go out, wait a few minutes before attempting to relight it to allow the gas to dissipate. If you’re connecting the gas to the tank, Dr. Grant recommends spraying soapy water around the connection to see if you get bubbles, which is an indication that you have a gas leak and the connection needs to be tightened.
When using the grill, make sure to keep people—especially children—and animals away from the grilling station, as well as all flammable liquids. “Anything like charcoal lighter fluid, gasoline or other accelerants, you have to be careful,” Dr. Grant says. “Once you’re done using them, you want to make sure you put the closed container well away from the grill because of the potential of an explosion. You never want to go back and re-squirt that onto the fire once it’s been started because it can flame up and cause a flash burn.”
You should also keep a water supply, such as a ready-to-go water hose, and a fire extinguisher nearby in case a fire does get out of control.
2. Fish fries
Fish fries are another popular summertime cookout activity with a real potential for burns. “Grease is heating up the temperature to around 300 degrees or higher, which takes less than a second to produce a third-degree burn,” Dr. Grant says.
If you’re hosting a fish fry, make sure people know where you are cooking so they can keep clear. Consider roping off any boiling kettles or large frying pans so guests don’t accidentally get too close.
“If you’ve got a motorboat, you want to make sure the engine is well-serviced,” Dr. Grant says. The carburetor, an internal part of the engine that mixes air and fuel for combustion, can potentially catch fire. Have a fire extinguisher and life jackets on hand, and, if alcohol is present, a designated driver in case of emergency.
Although lightning burns are rare, they can happen. If someone is struck by lightning, it can cause a type of electrical burn that creates a feathering pattern on the skin. During the summer, thunderstorms are common and can sometimes arrive out of nowhere.
“If you’re around water and lightning is occurring, you need to get away from it and dry off as quickly as possible,” Dr. Grant says. “If you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning.” Head to a dry area far from water, or, if you’re stuck outdoors, stay as low to the ground as possible.
People might not think about candles in the summer, but severe summer thunderstorms can cause outages that require other light sources. If you lose your power, stick with battery-operated lights instead. “Prepare by having flashlights or make sure candles are well-protected so you don’t run the risk of igniting clothing or furniture,” Dr. Grant says.
Fireworks are usually thought of only on the Fourth of July, but they are also often used for various summertime celebrations, including weddings, birthdays and barbecues. Dr. Grant warns that only sober adults should handle fireworks, and kids should stay at a safe distance to limit risk of injury. “Also, never attempt to relight a firework if you think you’ve got a dud,” Dr. Grant says. “Lots of people will go and pick up the firework, thinking that if it doesn’t explode they can light it again, but when they pick it up is when it explodes.”
Many people think sparklers are more kid-friendly, but Dr. Grant says that they can burn upward of 1,200 degrees and are very difficult to put out—and many people hold them while they’re burning. “Sometimes the sparks coming off of sparklers can ignite your clothing. Stick them in the ground and watch them burn off like that instead of holding them.”
Although many playgrounds have switched to plastic, some still use metal sliding boards or swings, which heat up in the summer sun. “If a young child slides down a metal sliding board, they can sustain a significant burn because their skin is very thin,” Dr. Grant says. “Parents and caregivers should be cautious about where children play to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
What To Do If You Get a Burn
If you notice redness, or your skin is hot to the touch, take a cool shower to try to cool your body temperature. Afterward, apply over-the-counter sunburn creams to begin healing process. “Any lotions you use, you want to make sure they are alcohol-free because it will dry out the skin and cause more complications,” Dr. Grant says. “Sometimes people will try home remedies, such as putting Vaseline or butter on a burn, but those will also make the condition worse.”
You can take Tylenol or ibuprofen to relieve any pain or discomfort, but if you have a prolonged and persistent fever, pain that won’t subside, or blisters, it’s possible that the burn is deeper than the surface of the skin and you should seek medical attention. Call 911 if the burn involves about half of an entire extremity (like a hand or an arm) or the person who is burned is a young child or an older adult. If in doubt, Dr. Grant says, call 911.