Friday, July 8, 2016
How to Treat a Small Steam Burn
Sometimes annoying and unavoidable stuff happens. Yesterday it happened to me.
I put three small baking potatoes in the oven (not the microwave) to cook for lunch. When they were done, I picked each of them up with a pot holder to remove them from the oven. The third potato burst when my thumb pressed against it and steam shot through the pot holder. I dropped the potato immediately.
Burns hurt. They really hurt. Believe me, I know: when I was 19, there was a cooking accident and boiling oil scalded my hands and my legs--20% of my body. I was in the hospital for several weeks and in burn therapy for several months. Decades later, I still have to be careful in the sun because I can get a sunburn on my legs even though I'm wearing jeans.
One of the things I learned in the burn unit is that as long as there is heat in the wound, the damage to the flesh continues. A burn has to be cooled until the flesh itself stops feeling hot.
I went right away to the sink and held my thumb under cold running water for a couple of minutes. Then I got a cold pack out of the freezer, wrapped it in a clean dish towel, and held it over the burn--it's better to keep a fabric layer between the ice and the wound.
It took about two hours for the heat to fully leave, and it takes some patience to hold onto a cold pack for that long but the results are worth it. I have a burn mark on my thumb that is about 1/2 inch across and there's just a bit of a low flat blister there but nothing like it could have been if I hadn't treated it properly. There's no pain, no discomfort. I'll keep a bandage over it for a few days to protect the area.
There's an old tradition that says to put butter or oil on a burn. Never do this. It makes the burn worse because it keeps the heat in the wound, and the burn actually becomes worse.
Remember: use covered ice for a small burn and keep it iced until the heat leaves the wound. For a bigger burn, of course, get to the hospital immediately. Don't wait for even a second when treating or getting help for any burn.
And, by the way, I'll plant to use tongs to pick up baked potatoes now. They still might burst but they won't do so directly in my hand.