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10 Tips to Avoid Scald Burns

From hot water to steamy microwaved foods, learn how to reduce your scald burn risk

10 Tips to Avoid Scald Burns

In southeastern Alabama this past summer, a young boy was airlifted to a hospital with non-life-threatening burns on his face, chest and arm.

Media reports said the youngster ran by the stove in his home and accidentally knocked over a pot of hot water.

Similar accidents happen elsewhere. The scenario is familiar, as are the heart-breaking and painful results. Scald injuries, those caused by hot liquid or steam, are the leading cause of burn injuries to young children and seniors, and the second leading cause of all burn injuries.

About 30% of LVHN’s burn patients are children and of those children, almost 80% suffered from scald burns.

Scald burns have origins not only in hot water on the stove top, but from a myriad of other sources, including hot mugs of tea or coffee, steam from microwaved food, and even garden hose water from an unemptied hose sitting in the hot sun all day.

This week [Feb. 5-11, 2023] is National Burn Awareness Week, a great opportunity to share burn awareness and prevention information to help everyone stay safer. This year’s focus is on avoiding scald burns.

Burns, including scald burns, can happen in an instant. It takes only one second for water at 155 F to cause a third-degree burn, the worst primary burn severity level. The more serious the burn, the more layers of skin are typically involved.

“Education is a key factor in preventing scald and all other types of burn injuries” - Daniel Lozano, MD, LVHN's Chief, Department of Surgery-Division of Burn and surgeon with LVHN's Burn Recovery Center

10 tips for improved scald safety:

  • Set your water heater to a maximum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Check the bath water temperature with the inside of your wrist just as you would with baby’s milk.
  • Run your hand through the bath water to make sure there are no hot spots.
  • Never hold a child while cooking, drinking hot liquid, or carrying hot foods.
  • Make sure your travel mug has a tight-fitting lid to prevent spills if the mug tips over.
  • Establish a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around your stove.
  • Microwaved foods are hot enough to burn. Always open lids, plastic wrap or other dish covers away from your body.
  • Use dry oven mitts or potholders. Hot cookware can heat moisture in a potholder or hot pad, resulting in a scald burn.
  • Turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge.
  • Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.

LVHN’s experience

At Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) hospitals, about 800-900 people are hospitalized for burns each year.

Surgeon Daniel Lozano, MD, with LVHN Burn Recovery Center, and Chief, Department of Surgery-Division of Burn, says 5,000-6,000 people are seen each year in LVHN’s outpatient burn clinics, either for follow-up burn care, sometimes after surgery, or because their burns were not large enough for them to be hospitalized. 

About 30% of LVHN’s burn patients are children and of those children, almost 80% suffered from scald burns. LVHN’s world-class burn center often treats patients from outside the region. Lozano says 60% are from outside LVHN’s eastern Pennsylvania service area.

Lozano says scald burns can be life-threatening, particularly for smaller children. Toddlers’ heads typically make up a much larger proportion of their bodies than adults, 20% for toddlers versus 9% for adults. Scald burns can more quickly affect larger portions of their bodies.

LVHN works with the Burn Prevention Network to provide education on burn prevention, targeting groups including new parents and school-age children. “Education is a key factor in preventing scald and all other types of burn injuries,” Lozano says. 

National Fire Protection Association burn prevention tip sheet

The National Fire Protection Association

Has a handy burn prevention tip sheet.

Get the tip sheet (PDF)

Burn severity lingo

Burn severity terms can be confusing. Here’s what they mean.

First-degree burn – Damages the outer layer of your skin, the epidermis. A sunburn is a good example.

Second-degree burn – Damages the epidermis and the layer beneath, called the dermis. These burns may need a skin graft and can scar.

Third-degree burn – Damages or destroys both layers of skin, including hair follicles and sweat glands, and damages underlying tissues. These burns always require skin grafts.

Fourth-degree burns extend into fat, fifth-degree burns into muscle, and sixth-degree burns to bone.

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