Family Health Magazine - PREVENTION
Preventing Burns and Scalds
Take action to keep your children safe
More Canadian children are seriously burned by hot liquids than are injured and killed by house fires. Scalds, or hot liquid burns, are the number one type of burns that result in children coming to the Emergency Department and Hospital Burn Unit.
In 1997, approximately 9,000 Canadian children visited an emergency department because of a burn. More than half of the children in Emergency for burn treatment are between the ages of one and four. Most of these burns are predictable and preventable.
Scalds occur when a hot liquid or steam comes in contact with skin. The two most common hot liquids to cause scalds are bath water and hot beverages such as tea and coffee. A scald can burn the surface of the skin or the deeper layers of the skin, causing mild to severe pain. Tap water scalds tend to be more severe than hot liquid scalds because sitting in too-hot water causes deep burns to a large portion of the body. These large burns often mean that children have to be in the hospital twice as long as those scalded by a hot drink.
Children are too young to fully understand the dangers of hot liquids. Children are at a high risk for tap water scalds because they cannot react quickly to get out of the bathtub if the water is too hot. Also, children’s skin is very sensitive and burns more quickly than adult skin. We need to teach children from a very early age to respect the dangers of hot liquids. We also have to protect children by preventing them from being exposed to situations where they could get burned.
- Use a thermometer that shows high temperatures, such as a candy or meat thermometer.
- Do not use any hot water for one hour; then turn on the hot water tap in your bathroom and let it run for two minutes.
- Fill a cup with hot water and place the thermometer in the cup.
- Check the temperature reading on the thermometer after 30 seconds. If the thermometer reads higher than 49°C (120°F), you need to lower the temperature on your hot water heater.
- If you live in a building where you do not have access to the hot water heater, ask your landlord to lower the temperature.
- Put an anti-scald device on your taps. There are a variety of devices that can be purchased at most home improvement stores.
To lower the number of children suffering scald burns, prevention is the first and most important step. Simply turning down the temperature of hot water heaters can prevent scalds. Many homes have hot water tank temperatures set at 60°C (140°F). At this temperature a child’s skin can burn in just one second. Ensure the water temperature in your home is set at 49°C (120°F).
Once the water temperature has been turned down, there is no need to worry that a child will be scalded if he or she turns the tap on without adult supervision. Good times to do this are right after the birth of your child or as soon as you move into a new home. Don’t forget to check temperatures when visiting or staying with friends or relatives.
Soak and scrub, but don’t scald
- Fill the bathtub first with cold water, then alternate between hot and cold water until it reaches a comfortable temperature.
- Test the temperature by moving your entire hand around in the water. If the water doesn’t feel too hot or cold to your touch, then it is safe to put your child in the bathtub.
- Supervise children when they are in the bathtub.
- Do not leave your child alone in the bathtub for any reason. If the phone or doorbell rings either stay with your child or take your child with you, wrapped in a towel.
- Drain the bathtub immediately after use.
Hot tips...that won’t burn
Scalds are not only caused by hot tap water; they are often due to children spilling hot drinks or food on themselves. Decrease your family’s risk of scalds by taking the following precautions.
- Use placemats that are well away from the edge of the table instead of a tablecloth to prevent toddlers from grabbing the tablecloth and pulling hot liquids or food onto themselves.
- Do not hold a child or sit with a child in your lap while you are having a hot drink.
- Keep hot liquids and food away from children. Hot liquids can still scald up to half an hour after boiling.
- Get in the habit of putting a lid on hot drinks, even when you are at home.
- Many strollers come with cup holders. Do not place cups with hot liquids in these holders, even if they have lids. If the cup tips over and dislodges the lid, the contents could scald your child.
- Teach children to stay away from the stove. Decrease the risk of danger by placing them in a high chair, swing, or playpen when cooking.
- Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove and when possible cook on rear burners.
- Keep hot electric appliances such as kettles, curling irons, humidifiers, heaters, and irons (and dangling cords) out of reach.
- If heating baby food in the microwave, make sure you stir the food well (it can be cold in the middle and boiling along the edges). Test the temperature with your finger.
- Do not warm an infant’s milk in the microwave as the milk may heat unevenly. A hot spot can burn your child’s mouth. To warm a bottle, fill a container (cup or pot) with hot tap water and set the bottle in it for about five minutes. Before feeding your child, test the temperature of the milk by placing a few drops on the inside of your wrist. The milk should feel lukewarm.
- Children under seven are too young to use the microwave; older children must be taught safe operation of the microwave and be supervised. If children are not taller than the microwave, they are more likely to spill hot contents. Also, they may receive steam burns to their face when opening the microwave door or uncovering hot food.
First Aid Tips for Scalds
If a scald does happen, here are some useful tips to follow.
- Place the scalded body part (skin will be red and swollen) in cold water, or cover it with cold wet cloths until the pain stops (about 15 minutes).
- If blisters are present, do not break them, but do see a doctor.
- If a serious scald has caused a deep burn (skin dark red, black, or white with tough leathery surface), call 911. Do not apply cold water. Cover the person with a blanket to keep them warm.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [PR_FHd01]