Contact burns are injuries caused when a body part comes in contact with a hot object or substance. Because the burns stem from direct contact with a hot object, they are typically relatively small in size, less than 10% of TBSA. Contact burns also have a very low mortality rate; even burns requiring admission to burn centers have a mortality rate of less than 1%.
As with most types of injuries, the risk of complications associated with contact burns increase as the patient gets older. The most common complication is cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial skin infection which presents as swollen, red area of skin that feels hot and tender. For those cases that do require burn center care, the length of care is generally less than one month indicating that long term effects are rare.
Common Contact Burn Sources
Contact burns account for approximately 9% of all burns requiring admission to burn centers and are particularly common among young children under the age of five. Nearly 70% of these burns are non-work related injuries that occur in the home. This makes logical sense given that children tend to be tactile learners and the variety of hot objects commonly found around a home. As such, contact burns can often be prevented by simple safety precautions, especially if there are young children in the home. Keep children out of rooms with hot appliances, like the kitchen or bathroom, and make sure to keep plenty of protective cooking equipment handy, such as oven mitts.
The next most common locations where contact burns occur are during recreational or sporting activities. Again, simply being mindful of the danger that these activities pose is the most effective safety precaution. Be wary of equipment that has been sitting out in the sun and bear in mind that engines get extremely hot when they’ve been running.
Flash burns are injuries that result from exposure to an extremely intense heat for a brief duration of time. These types of burns typically are the result of explosions where there is a large amount of flammable gas that all ignites at the same time, referred to as gas explosions. They are also caused by brief but intense flashes of electricity when the electrical current does not actually enter the body but puts off a tremendous amount of heat close by (such as a nearby lightening strike).
Since flash burns only expose the victim to heat for a brief period of time, clothing can often protect the body from at least some of the harm. However, if the flash is intense enough it can catch clothing on fire which may lead to other types of burns. If clothing does catch on fire, smother the flames with a heavy duty material or use the childhood teaching of stop, drop, and roll.
Other than workplace accidents, the most common forms of flash burns are in the home. Natural gas is odorless and colorless, but when used in residential homes the chemical mercaptan is added to give the gas the distinctive rotten egg smell. If you smell gas, avoid using electricity and get out of the building immediately. Once outside call emergency assistance, either 911 or the number to your local gas emergency line. Another important protective measure is to contact your utilities department before digging around your home. Take the time to find out where gas lines are to avoid the potential of a devastating explosion.