Kitchen Hazards: When an Injury Needs Emergency Care

Keeping you + your family safe

Mother a daughter remove pie from hot kitchen oven

So many dangers lurk in your kitchen — knives, open flames, boiling water, oh my! Whether you’re a klutz or grace under fire, spending time in the kitchen could get dicey.

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Thomas Waters, MD, emergency medicine physician, discusses the kitchen injuries he most often sees in the emergency department. Plus, he offers helpful tips on how to know if you can handle the injury at home or if it requires a trip to the ER.

Burn care

Learned the hard way that the oven mitt has a hole in it? Burns can and do happen in the kitchen. Make a beeline to the emergency department if the burn:

  • Is bigger than the palm of your hand.
  • Has significant blistering.
  • Seems to be deep but doesn’t hurt when you touch it (the nerves may be burned).
  • Worsens or progresses over the first few hours.
  • Is causing intolerable pain.

“With any burn, your first action happens at home: Cool the burn as quickly as possible,” says Dr. Waters. “It’s an old wives’ tale that butter works, so stick with cold water.”

Dr. Waters says you should never be afraid or feel silly seeking care in the emergency department. “If you’re asking yourself whether you should go to the emergency room, the answer is usually, ‘Yes.’” 

Care for cuts, scrapes and lacerations

Cuts and lacerations are common kitchen injuries, even if your knives haven’t been sharpened in a decade. Seek emergency care when:

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  • The bleeding doesn’t stop.
  • Underlying tissue is visible within the cut, which means you may need stitches.
  • A household bandage doesn’t cover the area.
  • The injury is over a joint or in an area that’s impairing your ability to move.

First things first: Apply direct pressure to the area to stop the bleeding. Then assess the situation.

“Deep cuts put your tendons, nerves, arteries, veins and even bones at risk,” says Dr. Waters. “If you get the feeling the cut is pretty deep, then a trip to the ER is a good idea.”

Eye and skin injury care

Hot peppers, cleaning solutions and lemon juice sometimes land where they shouldn’t. Head to the ER if your:

  • Eyes are severely irritated or swollen.
  • Vision is affected.
  • Skin is red or painful.
  • Skin irritation continues to worsen.

“If you come in contact with an irritant, rinse the affected area with lukewarm water,” says Dr. Waters. “For skin irritation from something like a hot pepper, you may find milk is better at neutralizing the area and provides more relief than water.”

What to do for smoke inhalation

Maybe you needed strong chemicals to clean up the royal mess you made, or perhaps the cacciatore caught on fire. Either way, you inhaled irritating fumes. Get to the emergency department if:

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  • You experience shortness of breath.
  • You’re coughing excessively.
  • The irritation doesn’t get better within a couple of hours, or it continues to worsen.

“Inhalation concerns happen more for people who have an airway condition like asthma,” says Dr. Waters. “Treat at home with your airway medications. If it doesn’t get better, then head to the ER.”

First aid for falls

Did you fall from a step stool while reaching for the slow cooker? Or maybe you slipped on the spilled milk your toddler’s crying over? Injuries aren’t likely when falling from a standing position but never say never. Get to the emergency department if you:

  • Hit your head and lose consciousness.
  • Can’t bear weight.
  • See excessive swelling or an obvious deformity.

“I want people to understand they don’t need to feel guilty about coming to the emergency room,” says Dr. Waters. “It’s more dangerous to let something go for two days and end up with a problem that could have been avoided if you’d received care right away.”

Dr. Waters also offers this gem: Never stick your hand in the garbage disposal (or at least unplug it first).

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