Avoiding Scalds

Each year thousands of people are treated for burn injuries in emergency departments nationwide. A large proportion of these injuries are related to scalding (burns caused by heated fluids), and most scalds involve children.

“Because of the proportions of a child’s body, they often have burns over a much larger percentage of their body surface,” says Dina Morrissey, MD, program coordinator for the Injury Prevention Center at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. “This means that children can be burned far more extensively.”

Bathtub Faucet

But the risk is not only to small children, warns David Harrington, MD, director of the Rhode Island Burn Center at Rhode Island Hospital. “We most often think of babies and toddlers when talking about injuries at bathtime or knocking over hot liquids in the kitchen, but the danger is also present for elderly dependents.”

Harrington continued, “Both young children and the elderly have thinner skin compared to the average adult, and therefore can burn more quickly and at a lower temperature.”

Harrington and Morrissey offer the following safety tips to help prevent unintentional injuries from scalding:

In the kitchen:

  • Always keep pot handles turned inward and use the back burners if possible.

  • Encourage the use of oven mitts and potholders to handle hot items.

  • Use pan lids to prevent hot liquid spatter and spills on the stove. Use appropriate protective equipment, such as an oven mitt, when removing hot pan lids.

  • Be careful when heating liquids or steaming food (popcorn/frozen vegetables) in the microwave.

  • Microwaves often heat unevenly, so be sure to stir liquids thoroughly after heating.

  • Always supervise young children in the kitchen.

  • Never hold a hot beverage while holding a child or caring for a dependent adult.

  • Never leave a hot beverage or plate of food unattended or close to edge of a counter or table when a young child is present.

  • Avoid the use of tablecloths and placemats. Young children may pull on them, causing a spill of hot liquid.

  • Do not use a microwave to heat baby formula.

  • Do not allow young children to use a microwave.

At bathtime:

  • Make sure your hot water heater is set no higher than 120-125ºF.

  • Always check the water temperature before putting a child or dependent adult in the tub.

  • Check the temperature of tub or sink water by placing your hand in the water for a full 10 seconds.

  • Consider purchasing a bath tub thermometer that will alert you if the water is too hot for a child or dependent adult.

  • Never leave a child or dependent adult unattended in the bathtub. Not even for a second.

More about The Burn Center at Rhode Island Hospital