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Scalds

scald; boiling; hot; tea; coffee; burn; injury; injuries; scalds; home; safety ;

Scalds are burns from hot liquids such as hot water, tea or coffee and by steam. They are a common cause of injury to young children, especially children between 12 and 24 months old. They happen easily and can cause serious problems for a long time if they are bad scalds.

Contents

The most common cause of scalds to young children is hot drinks, either due to children pulling a cup down onto themselves, or having a drink spilled on them while they are being held.

It is most important to make sure your home is as safe as possible to help prevent scalds and burns to young children.

There is a topic about first aid for Burns caused by things other than liquids.

First aid for scalds

If a child is scalded.

  • Quickly take off all the child's clothing. Clothes can hold in the heat and make the scald worse. They can also hide other parts of the skin that may be scalded.
  • Immediately put the scalded area in cool water or run cool water on it for about 20 minutes, or longer. It may help to cuddle the child under a cool shower while the water runs over the scald. Cooling the scald is very important as it prevents the heat from burning into the skin's deeper layers. Do this first, before calling for help if needed (if possible get someone else to call for help while you cool the child's skin).
  • Never use ice. Children have been dangerously chilled in baths of iced water. Ice applied to scalded skin can cause more damage to the skin.
  • Remove anything tight such as bracelets or jewellery. Scalds quickly cause swelling.
  • After cooling the skin, if the scald is on the face cover the scald with a clean, damp cotton cloth. On other parts of the body cover the scald with clean plastic wrap, then with a clean damp cotton pillow case or sheet. This will reduce pain and the risk of infection.
  • Never use butter, oils, toothpaste, creams or ointments to cover the burn.

Go to a hospital or doctor if the skin is broken or for anything other than a small scald. Infection may change a superficial burn into a deep burn.

Causes of scalds

  • Cups of hot tea or coffee and hot water from kettles are the most common cause of young children having to go to hospital for scalds.
  • Scalds from hot water in baths are less common, but usually more serious.
  • How bad the burn is depends on the temperature of the hot water or other liquid and the length of time the hot liquid is on the skin.
  • In South Australia, in 2002, 161 children aged 0 to 12 years were admitted hospital emergency departments for treatment of scalds.

Time for a serious scald to happen to a child

For example:

Type of liquid Temperature Time
Boiling water from a kettle 100°C under 1 second
Cup of hot tea/coffee 70-95°C under 1 second
Hot water from a tap 60°C 1 second
Hot water from a kettle, 5-10 minutes after boiling 55°C 10 seconds
Hot water from a tap with a temperature regulator 50°C 5 minutes

Why young children are at more risk

  • They like to climb and are naturally curious.
  • They can move very fast.
  • They don't understand danger.
  • They have thinner skin than adults, so their skin burns more deeply in less time.

Protection from scalds

Kitchen

  • When cooking use child safety barriers across the kitchen door or put the child in a play pen away from cooking areas or cords.
  • Keep kettles and jugs and teapots away from the edge of bench tops and tables.
  • Keep cords to electrical appliances short, or use coiled cords.
  • Use the back hot plates on the stove and turn saucepan handles inwards so children cannot see and grab them.
  • Use a stove guard.
  • Make sure there is free bench space near the stove so you don't have to carry hot pots and dishes across the kitchen.
  • Use an oven door lock to prevent children climbing up on the oven door.
  • Never leave a bucket of hot water where children can get to it.

Hot Drinks

  • Keep tea cups and mugs away from the edge of benches and tables.
  • Never put hot drinks in the cups which children usually drink from.
  • Use non-slip place mats instead of table cloths.
  • Never drink tea or coffee with a child in your arms or on your lap.
  • Never let children sip a hot drink from your cup.

Bathroom

  • Always run cold water into the bath first. Remember that in hot weather, water from the cold tap can be very hot as well.
  • Always check the temperature of the bath before putting a child into it. Have the bath water at a warm temperate (at about 38º) - not hot.
  • To help prevent scalding from hot water, make sure that the water from your bathroom taps comes out at 50ºC or less. You can get a device to attach to the tap to mix hot water with cold. Contact a plumber or Kidsafe (in Australia) for advice.
  • To prevent a child from turning on the hot water tap, cut a slit in the side of a plastic drink bottle, then cover the handle with the bottle, or use child resistant taps/tap covers. Turn off taps tightly. 
  • Close the bathroom door when it is not in use - don't leave a young child in the bathroom without an adult present.
  • Never leave a young child in the care of another child who may turn on the hot water tap.

Resources

South Australia

Reference

Drago DA. 'Kitchen scalds and thermal burns in children five years and younger'. Pediatrics, 2005; Vol 115, No 1 (January), pp 10-16. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/...

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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