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Experts See Rise in Pavement Burns From Scorching Heat

As temperatures soar in certain regions in the United States, more people are experiencing severe burns from hot surfaces and pavement.

According to the Wall Street Journal, burn centers in the Southwestern part of the U.S. are experiencing an increase in burn injuries resulting from people touching sunbaked door handles and walking or falling on scorching hot pavement — AKA "pavement burns."

WSJ reports that at the UMC Lions Burn Care Center in Las Vegas, about one-third of patients in a 16-bed burn unit are there because of pavement burns. This type of burn can be more severe than burn injuries sustained by flames, boiling water, or chemicals.

In addition, about 50 people with contact burns from touching objects that have been exposed to scorching heat have been hospitalized at the Arizona Burn Center this summer. Two of those individuals died.

Adriana Glenn, an assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Nursing, tells Healthnews, "Young children are especially at risk of these types of burns because they are not as aware of the danger and may react more slowly in terms of not knowing what to do, and also their skin is thinner."

Glenn says that older adults and people with neurological conditions, diabetes, or heart disease who may have nerve damage impacting foot sensitivity are also at risk. In addition, pets like dogs or cats can sustain burns from walking on hot pavement.

Aside from pavement, Glenn says other surfaces that can become superheated on a hot day and cause burns include things like playground equipment, cars (inside on the seats and outside), and artificial turf.

Just be very mindful of any outdoor surface that is exposed to direct sunlight; you want to avoid those areas to reduce your burn risk.

- Glenn

In general, hot pavement can cause first and second-degree burns, and the symptoms can differ among individuals.

"First-degree burns characteristics are that the skin is red or in darker skinned individuals the burned skin takes on a darkened appearance, [and] the skin is painful and warm to the touch, but you will not see any blisters or skin sloughing or coming off," Glenn explains.

In contrast, second-degree burns cause the skin to appear shiny or wet, reddened, or darker in individuals with darker skin. Also, the burn can be quite painful when touched.

"In lighter individuals, there may be blanching of the skin where the skin becomes more pale because of the restriction of blood flow to the burned area," Glenn says. "However, in people with darker skin, this may not be visible because of the increase in melanin in the skin, which can mask this response, and so this sign is not as useful in determining burn type for darker skin individuals."

Preventing burn injuries from scorching heat includes paying attention to the weather, as Glenn explains that temperatures in the upper 70s can heat pavement to well over 110 degrees. Because of this, wearing proper footwear when going outside is critical.

In addition, Glenn says, "Keep a small blanket or towels handy in your car, backpack, or tote bag and use it to place on very warm surfaces. Check hot surfaces before your kids play by touching them with the back of your hand and counting slowly to five — if you can do that, your kid will likely be okay."


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