6 Ways to Prevent Scald Burns in Kids
Keep your kid out of hot water by taking extra precautions around steamy liquids
You tell your tot not to touch the stove or play with matches. But did you know hot water — or coffee, tea or soup — might be a bigger danger?
Scald burns, caused by hot water, other liquids and steam, are the most common type of burn in children under 5, according to the American Burn Association. In fact, about 75 percent of burn injuries to young children are scalds.
Want to keep your kids safe? Here are six ways to prevent scald burns.
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1. Dial down your hot water heater. Set the hot water heater in your home at a maximum temperature of 120 degrees, says Susan Cannon, RN, nurse manager of the special care and burn center at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. Hot tap water can scald a kid, and it only takes one second for 155-degree water to cause a third-degree burn. If you live in an apartment building, check with your landlord about the settings, Cannon says. “Some landlords keep the temperature really high,” she says. However, you can add anti-scald devices (available at some hardware stores and online) to your faucets, she says.
2. Keep kids out of the kitchen. Small children should never be underfoot while you’re cooking, says David Greenhalgh, MD, a surgeon and chief of burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California. “That’s danger time,” he says. For example, a parent carrying a pot of boiling water and pasta from the stove to the sink could trip over their toddler and cause a severe scald burn, Cannon says. Just in case a child does wander in, point your pot handles toward the wall, Greenhalgh says. “Turn them in so kids can’t reach them,” he says.
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3. Get rid of the tablecloth. A tablecloth or placemat on a table set with hot soup or beverages can pose a serious danger to a curious toddler, Cannon says. “They’re just learning to walk, they yank on a tablecloth and down comes hot coffee,” she says, adding that “pull downs” are a very common cause of scalds. So, nix the tablecloth until your kids are older, Greenhalgh says.
4. Making soup? Cool it. Parents need to be extremely careful when giving a child hot soup, says Greenhalgh, who has studied burns caused by soup. The salt in soup causes it to get extra hot when heated, he says. Containers that hold instant ready-to-eat soup can tip easily, especially if they’re tall and narrow, so put your child’s soup into a regular bowl, Greenhalgh recommends. Then, set it on the counter to cool for about five minutes before serving.
5. Put a lid on it. The steaming cup of coffee that gets you going in the morning can be dangerous when left near the edge of a counter or table. Small children often reach up and pull the mug down, spilling hot liquid all over themselves, Cannon says. So keep your toasty beverages out of reach of tiny fingers, and use a covered travel mug. “We always say, put a lid on it,” Cannon says.
6. Test the bath water. First, fill the tub. Then use an inexpensive temperature-testing device to check the water before you put baby in the bath, Greenhalgh says. You can get a temperature tester from a drug store, pediatrician or burn center. “They’re just simple little plastic things you throw in the water,” he says. Safe bathing temperature is 100 degrees. And baths that are too hot can pose a big danger because prolonged contact can cause a deeper burn, Greenhalgh says.
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If your child does get scalded, get the hot liquid off and remove any wet clothing as quickly as possible, Greenhalgh says. For a minor burn, run cool water over the burned area or soak it in cool water (do not use ice) for at least five minutes, according to the National Institutes of Health. A cold, damp towel will also work. Then cover the burn with a dry, sterile bandage
For a major burn, call 911. If you think your child needs treatment, go to the nearest emergency room or look up your regional burn center, Greenhalgh says. Every burn center is open 24/7, and you can call if you’re not sure whether to seek treatment for a small burn, he says.
“You can call and say, ‘I’m worried. What do you think?’” he says.