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These Safety Tips May Help You Avoid Dangerous Scald Burns in Children

As a parent or caregiver, you want to keep children healthy and safe. But children are naturally curious — they learn about the world by exploring what they can see and touch. Sometimes, that can be dangerous. 

Children, especially young children, are at risk of scald burns. Scald burns come from contact with hot liquids or steam, so they differ from burns from flames or hot objects. It’s important to understand what causes scald burns so you can take steps to protect children from them.

You might be boiling water to cook pasta, filling a tub for your child’s bath or reheating your coffee in the microwave. Whatever you do, there are probably times every day when there’s a chance of a scald burn happening. 

“Scalds are common because hot liquids are all around us,” said Lourdes Castanon, MD, a burn care specialist with Banner – University Medicine and director of the burn program at Banner Health. “We use hot liquids for cooking, and even for enjoying that nice cup of coffee in the morning.”

How to prevent scald burns

To prevent scald burns, ensure your child can’t make contact with hot water, hot liquids or steam. Hectic times of day, like dinnertime or bath time, can be risky. Here are some steps you can take to make scald burns less likely to happen:

  • Always supervise your child at bath time and around hot appliances.
  • Test the temperature of bath water before your child gets in the tub. If it feels too hot, add cold water.
  • Use safety locks on stovetops so your child can’t turn on the stove.
  • Set your water heater to 120°F or less.
  • Use the back burners of your stove.
  • Turn handles on pots and pans toward the back of the stove so children can’t reach them.
  • Consider using place mats instead of tablecloths, since kids can pull on tablecloths and spill hot liquids or foods on themselves. 
  • When you take a bowl out of the microwave, put it out of reach of children.
  • Use microwave-safe cookware in the microwave.
  • Stir hot liquids thoroughly.
  • Be careful when you pick up a child while holding a hot drink.
  • Teach children about the dangers of burns and how they can happen.
  • Make sure older children know how to use the microwave safely. Be sure they use bowls that are the right size, so they don’t spill hot liquids when they take them out of the microwave. 

How to treat scald burns

Scald burns sometimes still happen even when you do your best to prevent them. They can cause burns that are different from other burns. “If liquid falls on clothing, it can spread and cause a larger burn,” Dr. Castanon said. 

First, cool the burn under cold running water for at least 10 minutes. That will help minimize damage. Never use ice or butter on burns — they can make the damage worse.

See how severe the burn is. There are three types of burns:

  • First-degree burns cause pain and the skin turns red.
  • Second-degree burns cause blisters.
  • Third-degree burns reach deeper layers of the skin.

“The degree of burn depends on the temperature of the liquid and the contact time,” Dr. Castanon said. “And microwaved liquids can cause a deeper burn than liquids heated on the stovetop.”

It’s a good idea to contact a health care provider for guidance for all burns, even minor ones. You should always seek medical attention for second-degree or third-degree burns. A provider can then examine the burn and recommend treatment. “Even first-degree burns can cause a lot of pain. If you seek help, we have medications to help with the pain,” Dr. Castanon said.

You will want to keep burns clean and covered. That makes it less likely they will get infected. Inspect the burn and change the bandage regularly. Scald burns can change over time, so you’ll want to check them closely for at least the first three days. 

Be sure to support your child emotionally after the burn injury and as they are healing. Burns can be scary, and your child may need comfort. 

The bottom line

Scald burns, which are caused by hot liquids, are common in children. There’s a high risk of scald burns because we need hot water for cooking and bathing. You can help keep children safe by childproofing your home, setting your water heater no higher than 120°F and teaching your children how to be safe around hot liquids. 

If your child gets a scald burn, reach out to a health care provider for advice. Seek medical care right away for a second-degree or third-degree burn. You can visit Banner Urgent Care if you need expert care for a scald burn. 

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