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Burn Rate in Kids Has Dropped, But Still Causes Concern

Youths' thinner skin makes them more susceptible to severe injury, expert says

TUESDAY, Oct. 6, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- After a long day last year, Danette McKinney asked her husband, Shawn, to check on the roast she had in the oven. As he opened the door, Shawn didn't see their 1-year-old daughter toddle up beside him. The little girl placed her palms on the scorching metal and shrieked.

"As we were taking her to the hospital, I think my husband and I were crying more than she was crying," said McKinney, a 30-year-old mother of two from Dublin, Ohio. "It was horrible."

Each year, more than 120,000 youths aged 20 and younger are treated in emergency rooms for burns, according to a study in the November issue of Pediatrics. Kids younger than 6 accounted for 56 percent of the injuries.

The number of pediatric burn victims actually has declined in recent years, falling 31 percent between 1990 and 2006. Researchers take the drop as a sign that safety messages about preventing burns are getting through to parents.

Yet they still consider the number of pediatric burns as too high. More than 2 million children and teens were treated for burns in emergency departments over the 17-year span of the study, the researchers found.

"The overall message is there is a lot more work to do," said study author Lara McKenzie, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University and a researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "Burns can be very painful and devastating injuries, and the recovery period can be long and difficult."

Nearly 60 percent of burns are caused by thermal sources, such as flames or hot surfaces, according to the study, which used information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database. Scalds from hot liquid or steam were the second most common source of injury, particularly among young children. Other sources of burns included chemicals, radiation (sunburns) and electricity.

Boys accounted for nearly 59 percent of injuries. Burns most often occurred on a hand or finger (36 percent of the time) or on the head and face (21 percent), the study found.

Nearly 92 percent of burns occurred at home, most often in the kitchen. About 32 percent of burns were attributed to kitchen appliances and 21 percent to other household appliances, such as curling irons and irons. About 14.5 percent were bath-water related, according to the study.

The severity of a burn depends on how many layers of skin are injured, explained Dr. J. Kevin Bailey, a burn surgeon at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Cincinnati. Because children have thinner skin than adults, kids are more susceptible to not only getting burned faster but more severely.

Parents can protect their children from scalds by keeping the water heater turned to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. "It's very easy to get a deep burn on a baby in a matter of seconds," Bailey said.

Burns can be among the most painful injuries, leading to lengthy hospital stays and surgical interventions.

"Your skin is an organ, and part of the job of the skin is to give the brain feedback on the environment, so it has an intense amount of nerve endings," Bailey said. "When you take off that top layer of skin, it exposes a huge number of nerves to noxious stimuli, which you feel as intense pain."

The McKinney's daughter was sent by ambulance from their local emergency room to Nationwide Children's Hospital, where she was sedated and the second-degree wounds treated and dressed. Though she made a full recovery, her parents say they will never forget that evening.

"Every time I open the oven door, I put my hand out and make sure she's not behind me," McKinney said. "Kids are so curious. And they are so fast. In the blink of an eye they can be right behind you or right next to you."

More information

The Nemours Foundations offers tips on preventing burns, shocks and fires.

SOURCES: Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator, Center for Injury Research and Policy, Nationwide Children's Hospital, and assistant professor, pediatrics, Ohio State University, Columbus; J. Kevin Bailey, M.D., burn surgeon, Shriners Hospital for Children, Cincinnati; November 2009 Pediatrics
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