The kitchen is a room many of us spend a lot of time in, whether it’s cooking, eating meals, or just relaxing with a coffee. No matter how careful you are in the kitchen, the more you cook, the more likely it is you’ll experience a cut or a burn at some point. While prevention is key (and we’ve covered that before twice), you need to be prepared to treat a kitchen emergency. We’ll look at two of the most common injuries in the kitchen and what you can do to remedy them.
Build a First Aid Kit
No matter how often you cook or what kind of kitchen you have, you should have first aid resources in your home. These are often kept together as a home first aid kit so that, should a need for them arise, they’re all in one place and easy to find. The American Red Cross has a long list of recommended supplies for a fully stocked home first aid kit that’s a great guide to follow. Generally, first aid kits need:
- Supplies to stop bleeding or cover a wound (bandages or gauze)
- Supplies to keep a wound from becoming infected (antiseptic wipes or antibiotic creams)
- Medicines (painkillers or allergy medicines)
- Assisting tools (gloves, tweezers, or instructions)
With fires being a potential hazard of the kitchen, you should also include a consumer fire extinguisher or baking soda. These can be used to safely put out a fire. (Remember, don’t use water on grease fires!) Keep this kit near the kitchen so that you don’t have to go a far distance or upstairs in case of an emergency.
The possibility of injury shouldn’t scare you away from cooking but, instead, should motivate you to be prepared in case of an emergency. There are a lot of sharp objects in the kitchen such as knives and food processors. Knife skills are essential to meal preparation, cooking, and making you safer in the kitchen, but knicks and cuts can happen, even if you’re careful. If you experience an injury, follow these steps:
- Wash the wound immediately with soap under warm water. This can help kill any bacteria or germs in the wound and prevent infection.
- Apply pressure with a clean cloth (towel, t-shirt, gauze) for a few minutes to stop the bleeding and promote clotting.
- Apply an antibiotic cream or ointment to further prevent infection.
- Apply a bandage or clean gauze to cover the wound and tape it in place.
- Continue to apply pressure for five minutes after the bandage is in place to further promote clotting. Continue to apply pressure to the wound if it hasn’t stopped bleeding after five minutes. It may help to keep the wound elevated above your heart.
When It’s an Emergency
There are four factors of a laceration that can determine how severe it is and whether you should go to the emergency room or urgent care. Beyond these, if you notice any extreme physical sensations, like dizziness or nausea, you should call for help.
- Location — While a finger cut can be painful and an emergency in some cases, it won’t be as severe as a cut on your face or arm. A good rule of thumb is the closer the cut is to soft organs or major blood vessels, the more of an emergency it could be.
- Size — In this case, size refers to the length, width, and depth of the cut. A cut that’s longer than the width of your thumb (roughly an inch), is deep enough to have cut through to the dermis (the lower layer of skin), or is wide enough that you can’t easily push the sides of the laceration together may require stitches.
Length of Time — If you’ve been applying pressure for 20 minutes or more and the cut is still bleeding, you likely need emergency aid. This is a sign that the wound isn’t closing and may be more severe than you originally thought.
- Blood Flow — How much blood is coming from the wound is a sign of how severe the cut is. If there is a slow oozing from the wound, that’s likely okay. If there is a lot of blood coming from the wound, that’s worse. If there is a spray, you likely hit an artery, and it’s really serious.
Whether you’re baking, roasting, boiling, steaming, or sautéing, heat will be a critical ingredient to your meal. This also creates chances for you to burn yourself accidentally. Ask anyone who’s spent a significant time in the kitchen, they’ll have a story about burning themselves. Just like cuts, don’t let this spook you away from cooking. Knowing how to remedy a burn when they happen can give you a boost of confidence to get into the kitchen.
- Immediately hold the burned area under cool (not cold!) water. It may help to fill a bowl or bucket with cool water so it’s not constantly running water or applying a cool compress to the burn. Do this for about 10 minutes.
- Take a pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help dull the pain and reduce inflammation.
- Remove any tight pieces of jewelry or clothing that may be on or around the burned area. Swelling can occur, and these articles of clothing or jewelry can be painful to remove or can slow healing.
- Apply lotion to help heal and hydrate the skin. Stick with simple lotions like aloe vera, cocoa butter, or non-scented moisturizer lotion. An antibiotic cream is also helpful to prevent infection.
- Loosely cover the burn with a bandage to protect the skin as it heals.
- If blisters form, don’t pop, break, or poke them. These form to help protect the skin from infection.
A minor burn should heal on its own over the next day or so. It can help to keep the area hydrated and covered as it heals.
When It’s an Emergency
The first aid we described earlier is what you would do for a first-degree burn. This is the lowest level of a burn. For anything more severe than a first-degree burn, you should seek medical attention immediately. Knowing the difference between the three degrees of burns is important to knowing when it’s an emergency.
- First-Degree Burn — You’ll experience redness where the burn occurred, along with pain, swelling, and potentially some peeling as the burn heals. This can range from a sunburn to worse. You may still want to seek medical attention if the burn covers a large area of your body (especially sensitive areas like the face or hands) or isn’t healing after a week.
- Second-Degree Burn — Blistering is the clearest sign you have a second-degree burn. The skin will also turn extremely red and swollen. It will also be very painful to touch. As the skin blisters, the blisters may open and weep. As the burn heals, you’ll notice a thick, scab-like tissue form over the wound. You can treat these burns yourself, but it’s advisable to see a doctor after following our basic first aid tips. Most second-degree burns can heal within three weeks, though the worse the blistering is, the longer it’ll take and greater the chance you may need more treatment.
- Third-Degree Burn — Except for fourth-degree, fifth-degree, and sixth-degree burns (which aren’t always classified and sometimes lumped under third-degree burns), third-degree burns are the most severe burns you can get. In some cases, there may be no pain, as the burn caused damage so deep that the nerves have been destroyed. The skin may turn anywhere from waxy and white to dark brown to even a deep charred color. The skin may swell and become leathery. If you’ve been badly burned and exhibit these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Never try to treat a third-degree burn, or worse, yourself.
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Kitchen emergencies can be scary but knowing basic first aid and being prepared can relieve a lot of this fear. Most importantly, this knowledge will help you realize when your first aid isn’t enough and when to seek emergency aid. Having this understanding can help you minimize risk and be more confident in the kitchen, which can make you a better home cook.