What to do when the grilling gets too hot.
If you’re an amateur outdoor grill chef, odds are you’ve had your fair share of singed hairs over the years. But those singed hairs can, and do, occasionally turn into something worse, including serious burns to the skin. Each year, nearly 10,000 people are treated in American emergency rooms for grilling burns, and an average of 10,600 home fires are started by grills. July is the peak month for both dangers, with propane grills accounting for most of incidents, however, charcoal grills and smokers also create their fair share of problems and should also be used with caution.
“When you’re grilling, you’re literally playing with fire,” says Dr. Edward J. Ruane of St. Clair Medical Group Plastic Surgery. “Accidents are common and even minor burns can be very painful. That’s why it’s important to know what to do and to do it quickly.”
Treating a burn.
If you experience a superficial burn, the first step is to remove any clothing or jewelry from the affected area and run cool tap water over the burn. You may be tempted to put ice on the burn, but that’s one temptation it is vital to avoid.
According to Dr. Ruane, direct ice application may bring relief at first, but it can worsen your pain and cause more thermal injury and tissue damage. “Cool, running water for five minutes provides the relief you need without the risk of doing additional harm,” he says.
After cooling the wound with tap water, clean the area with mild soap and water to reduce the risk of infection. Many superficial burns require no dressing — only a topical antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin
Severe burns, however, are a different matter and beyond the relief provided by home remedies. “Obviously, those burns can be life threatening,” Dr. Ruane says. “They’re very prone to infection and can lead to significant scarring. If the burn is at or near a joint, it can also leave a tightening of the skin that can be debilitating by limiting range of motion.”
Anyone who experiences significant burns to the face, hands, feet and/or genitalia, or large burns over other areas of the body, should seek medical care immediately, including emergency room treatment. If the burn is severe or large enough, a Burn Center may be your destination.
After a severe burn heals, plastic surgery can help restore a more natural appearance to the affected area. The experienced professionals of St. Clair Medical Group Plastic Surgery are
certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and committed to providing the most modern care with a personalized approach.
“Whether it’s a burn, reconstruction or cosmetic procedure, we take the time to establish a trusting relationship with each patient by understanding their situation and their goals,” Dr. Ruane says. “For us, that’s where the possible outcome begins.”
Tips for summer grilling safety.
Of course, the best burn treatment is prevention. Follow these simple steps from the National Fire Protection Association to stay safe while solidifying your reputation as a world-class griller:
- Only use propane or charcoal grills outdoors
- Place the grill safely away from your house, railings, eaves, branches, or anything combustible
- Remove grease or fat buildup from the grills and trays
- Never leave your grill unattended
- Open your gas grill lid before lighting it
- For charcoal, only use charcoal starter fluid (never gasoline or any other flammable liquid)
- Never add fluid after the coals are lit
- When finished, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container
EDWARD J. RUANE, M.D.
St. Clair Medical Group Plastic Surgery
Edward J. Ruane, Jr., M.D. earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame and his medical degree at Duke University School of Medicine. Dr. Ruane completed his plastic surgery residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, one of the top-ranked programs in the country, where he was elected to serve as Administrative Chief Resident for the Department of Plastic Surgery. He maintains an academic appointment in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Plastic Surgery as a Clinical Professor and is board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Dr. Ruane has also been listed as one of America’s Best Plastic Surgeons in 2021 by Newsweek.
To contact Dr. Ruane, please call 412.572.6164.