The recent cold temperatures across some parts of the country have prompted officials from Hamad Trauma Center’s Hamad Injury Prevention Program (HIPP) to issue a list of best practices that can help residents stay warm and safe during the cooler season.
Dr. Rafael Consunji, Director of the HIPP, said:
With the expected cold weather, some residents of Qatar have used additional means to stay warm at home and at bath time. Unfortunately, this may lead to a rise in the number of patients with injuries due to accidents with their heating system. These include scald injuries, electrical or contact burns, and even serious flame burns from house fires sustained while at home or in accommodations.’
Dr Consunji explained that electrical burns and fires are more likely to happen with the incorrect use of electrical appliances for heating, while scald burns most often happen when bathing or cooking with hot liquids. He added:
Most victims of scald burns are the very young or the elderly, because they are unable to physically remove themselves from the scalding liquid’s path, and because their skin is much thinner and more sensitive to high temperatures. They can sustain severe scald burns within a few seconds.’
The HIPP has shared the following basic recommendations when using electrical or space heaters:
Only purchase electric or space heaters from reputable stores and ensure the product is ‘UL’ certified, or its equivalent. This will certify that the heater meets international standards for safety.
Electric heaters are high-power devices that must be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Plugging them into an extension cord, especially those with multiple outlets, can lead to an overload of the electrical system. This can cause the fuse to blow or even the overheating and melting of devices or wiring, which can in turn lead to a house fire.
Heaters must be positioned far away from flammable materials such as curtains, tablecloths, blankets and bedding. At least a three-foot or one-meter distance is recommended.
Keep heaters away from heavily trafficked zones or play areas and teach children to avoid them. Electric heaters can be a significant source of heat and can cause contact burns.
Make sure that automatic timers on heaters are working. Timers can help limit the duration that the unit is fully powered and reduce the risk of overheating and fire.
To help prevent scald burns:
- Never leave your child, particularly those under the age of one year, unsupervised in the bath. Your presence within an arm’s length at all times is the best defense against accidental scalding or drowning of infants and young children during bath time
- When bathing children, especially infants, the water must be mixed thoroughly so it has a uniform temperature. ‘Hot spots’ within the bath can cause scald burns. Always take the water temperature no more than 45° Celsius) or ‘hand-test’ before putting your infant into bath water
- Do not fill up the tub with your child in it. Repeatedly feel the water temperature during use
- Keep children out of the kitchen when cooking, especially when cooking hot liquids like soups, stews and even coffee or tea. Create a ‘no children’ zone within the house/kitchen so little ones know that they should not play in these areas
- Do not carry a child and a hot beverage at the same time – this is one of the most common reasons for a child getting scald burns from hot liquids. Use a travel mug or cup with a lid to reduce the chance of spilling hot liquids
- When moving containers with hot food or liquids, let people know what you are doing and make sure you have a clear, unobstructed and child-free path before proceeding
Danger of Burning Charcoal and Wood Indoors
Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has issued a warning to the public about the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning wood or charcoal indoors or in an enclosed space. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odorless gas which is highly toxic and can be fatal even in low concentrations when present in a confined space.
Burning wood or charcoal indoors without proper ventilation causes the gas to build up, leaving occupants vulnerable to suffocation and other severe complications including permanent brain injury or death.
Hamad General Hospital’s (HGH) Emergency Department has witnessed a sharp rise in the number of admissions caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. This has been due to residents burning wood or charcoal in confined spaces while trying to keep warm during the recent cold weather.
Commenting on the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, Dr. Dominic Jenkins, Senior Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Deputy Chair for Clinical Affairs at HMC, said that when charcoal is burned indoors for heating it releases a poisonous gas called carbon monoxide.
As the charcoal burns, the amount of carbon monoxide in the room gradually increases – without the occupants of the room being able to detect it. As it is inhaled, carbon monoxide attaches to the hemoglobin in the blood preventing it from being able to carry oxygen.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can start to appear within five to 20 minutes of exposure. However, lower concentrations may lead to a delay in the onset of symptoms and chronic exposure may cause symptoms to appear over days, weeks or months.’
Mild carbon monoxide poisoning may feel like food poisoning or the flu, although unlike the flu, carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t cause a high temperature (fever). Symptoms can include headache, tiredness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting. More severe cases of poisoning may cause muscle cramps and fainting and loss of consciousness due to the poor delivery of oxygen to the heart and the brain. The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, people with chronic heart diseases, respiratory problems or anaemia.’
Dr. Jenkins advised that residents should not light wood or charcoal fires indoors or in enclosed spaces and should only use approved heating appliances. If symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are suspected, occupants should immediately leave the building, call 999 or seek medical assistance.