COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Injury Prevention

Staying safe during COVID-19 self-isolation: tips from our burn centre

Self-isolating and social/physical distancing can help protect you from COVID-19. But could it actually put you at a higher risk for other injuries? Fire departments across the GTA have reported an increase in residential fires in recent weeks.

“Even though people are staying close to home, social distancing can lead to an increase in high-risk behaviours, which in turn cause the types of injuries we often end up treating here,” says Dr. Marc Jeschke, medical director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook.

The good news is that often, a little common sense can go a long way. Below are some tips from our Ross Tilley Burn Centre (RTBC) team:

Don’t try at-home treatments for COVID-19

Burn centres in Europe have reported an increase in steam and scald injuries due to misinformation on social media about steam inhalation as a home treatment for COVID-19. Injuries can easily happen when a bowl of hot water is placed in a person’s lap, or if hot water is left unattended around children.

“There is no evidence of any benefit to using steam inhalation as treatment or cure for COVID-19,” says Dr. Jeschke.

Try not to use alcohol as a coping mechanism

Tolerating isolation is difficult for many people, particularly as the weeks go on, but Dr. Jeschke warns against drinking more alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“Our colleagues in Europe have been seeing more of this, with people staying at home and drinking and smoking more, putting themselves at risk,” says Dr. Jeschke.

He says many of the injuries they see in the RTBC are the result of poor judgment. Simple activities like smoking and cooking can become deadly if a person falls asleep. Dropping a lit cigarette onto the carpet or leaving a stove unattended can ignite a fire very quickly.

If you do decide to consume alcohol, enjoy responsibly.

Take care of your mental health

The last several weeks of physical and social distancing have meant huge changes to our daily routines, significantly impacting the mental health of many people. Anne Hayward, RTBC’s social worker, says it’s important to remember that social distancing is meant to be physical, not emotional or psychological.

“For many people, social distancing increases feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression, especially in at-risk populations. This, in turn, can lead to an increase in substance misuse and self-harm,” says Hayward.

“It’s more important now than ever to keep engaged, which can include staying in contact with people by phone, text, e-mail and using virtual technology.”

Hayward also recommends limiting the amount of time spent reading, watching and listening to the news, and only using reliable sources when you do.

“There’s a balance between being informed, but not overwhelmed,” she says.

If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, one strategy Hayward recommends is Expressions of Gratitude.

“By asking yourself what you are grateful for, it shifts the focus away from some of the negativity and worry and helps you to focus on something positive. This could include something simple like an act of kindness, spending time with people you love, or realizing what’s important,” she says.

Other Sunnybrook experts have offered advice on strategies to manage your mental health and finding hope during COVID-19.

Take care when cooking

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, more people are preparing and cooking meals at home. Keep some simple safety tips in mind, such as not wearing loose, flowing clothing while cooking.

“With loose clothing, you turn around quickly or get too close, and the fire ignites the clothes. You then have a major injury for no reason whatsoever,” says Dr. Jeschke.

Make sure your smoke alarms are working, stay in the kitchen at all times when you’re cooking, move anything that can catch fire away from your stovetop, and keep kids away from areas where hot foods or liquids are being prepared, like stoves and microwaves.

Be careful when spring cleaning

It’s understandable that many people want to make use of their time at home to get a head start with spring maintenance around their properties. Those who live on larger properties outside of the city, however, should think twice before burning large piles of brush and debris.

“Do not pour gasoline or another igniter fluid onto a fire that’s already burning, like a bonfire. The fire can come right back up into the container you’re holding, which will then explode,” he says. The person holding the container may also react by throwing it, inadvertently spraying other people nearby with burning fuel.

It’s important to always have a container of water nearby or a garden hose on standby before starting the fire.

“With fires, you should always remember safety, and know where the closest water supply is,” says Dr. Jeschke.

If you do suffer a burn:

If it’s a significant burn, call 911. While waiting for help to arrive, don’t put butter, vinegar, oil or lemons on the burn.

“The best initial treatment for all burns is cool running water. Don’t soak the injured area, just let the water run over it,” says Dr. Jeschke.

Help is available

Hayward says there are many reasons for people to feel anxious or overwhelmed right now.

“People may be struggling with financial, housing, food and job insecurity concerns, new or pre-existing mental health issues. They may also have immune-compromised or senior loved ones who are at risk, or loved ones who are living in other cities, provinces or countries that they can’t get to right now,” she says.

Others may be self-isolating in abusive or volatile living situations, which can lead to scalding, contact or chemical injuries, she adds.

Help is available through a variety of organizations, including 211 Ontario, Kids Help Phone and Connex Ontario, among others. A complete listing of crisis support hotlines is available at If you are experiencing an emergency crisis situation, please contact 911 immediately or present to your nearest emergency department. 

If you’re a former RTBC patient and feel as though you need support during this challenging time, Dr. Jeschke encourages you to get in touch with the burn centre.

“Please reach out. You are not alone, and we will assess how we can best help you,” he says.

About the author

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar is the Communications Advisor for the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, Critical Care and Infectious Diseases programs at Sunnybrook.

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