November 16, 2018

Deep-frying turkey? Don't get burned by lack of knowledge

You can’t open a magazine or web site this time of year without finding dozens of tips on how to create the perfect Thanksgiving meal. But did you know that Thanksgiving is the most dangerous day of the year in the kitchen?

As deep-frying turkeys has become more popular, the problem has gotten worse.  Deep fryer burns are common and frequently require medical care, or even hospitalization and surgery.

"Deep-fryer burns are some of the most serious burns we treat, because the oil can be as hot as 400 degrees and clings to clothing and skin, making the burns even deeper," says Dr. Lee Faucher, director of UW Health’s Burn Center at University Hospital. "It is not uncommon for deep fryers to create third-degree burns that require skin grafts to heal."

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says that Thanksgiving is the worst day of the entire year for home-cooking fires, so it’s a good time to bone up on burn-care facts.

Common myths about caring for serious burns

It looks bad but it doesn’t hurt, so it’s probably OK, right?

Wrong. Some burns, especially from burning fat, are so severe that they destroy nerves in the area of the burn, leading to a lack of sensation. "A blistered burn without sensation means that you should seek medical attention immediately," said Dr. Faucher. "This is a sign of a deep injury that has damaged the superficial nerves of the skin and is a marker of a more serious burn."

It really hurts, so I should take lots of painkillers, right?

Wrong. "Again, you need to be evaluated by a burn specialist, because if you are going to need skin-graft surgery, there are some painkillers that need to be avoided because they promote bleeding that could interfere with surgery," Faucher said. "We prescribe medications such as ibuprofen when we know the wound will heal without surgery."

A serious burn should be left open to the air so it can heal, right?

Wrong. "We usually want patients to keep burns covered with a light dressing to hold the antimicrobial cream. The burn needs to stay moist and not allowed to dry out to allow it to heal properly," said Faucher. "In addition, we wrap more serious burns with ace wraps or compression gloves to reduce edema."

A serious burn should be kept dry, right?

Wrong. Faucher says that the slime covering a healing third-degree burn is the perfect breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. "When patients have an open wound from a burn, they need to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water at least once a day," he said. "This can be terribly painful, so we often prescribe painkillers so they are able to complete this necessary washing."

So, what should you do?

If you sustain a burn that is too painful for you to wash thoroughly at home, impedes your movement at all (such as burns over joints), has no sensation or covers a large and/or sensitive area (such as ears, face, or genitals) area, seek medical care.  Your local emergency department can consult and collaborate with a UW Health burn specialist around the clock to assure you get the best care for your injury.

Of course, the best treatment is to prevent burns in the first place. Faucher notes that the NFPA discourages the use of gas-fueled turkey fryers. The association's website has a list of other tips for making the kitchen safer on Thanksgiving.