Finally, the heat dome seems to be cooling off. It has been a long, hard time for all. Perhaps it is not a good time to discuss burns in children but if one burn can be prevented it is worth sweating over. Burns are the fifth leading cause of preventable deaths in children. (Don’t forget that guns are number one.)
A recent study by Moser, WJ et al in Burns discussed a study of scald burns in a Chicago burn center over a ten-year period. Scalds are burns from hot liquids or steam. Scald burns are the most common type of burn and 95% of these burns were caused by running water. These are serious burns sometimes requiring skin grafts and years of follow-up treatment. The average length of stay in the hospital was 8 days.
In some ways, it seems almost impossible that running water could cause such terrible injuries. It would seem that running tap water is a long way from boiling water for coffee or soup. Interestingly a serious burn can occur at 140 degrees in 3 seconds. At 120 degrees it takes about 10 minutes. It is very easy with the lever type of spigot to fall against the lever and have it turn to the hottest temperature possible. This could happen at any age and three seconds pass quickly.
Feeling pain occurs when the degree of heat reaches 106 to 109 degrees. A “hot bath” should not be hotter than 105 degrees and should be closer to 90 degrees. There is no evidence that hot baths clean better than comfortable baths. For a parent to test the heat it is recommended that they use the inside of their wrist not their hand.
It is interesting to learn that in 54% of the cases, the caregiver did not test the water and in another 39% of the children were unattended. However, in 2% of the cases, the caregiver did test the water and was present at the time of the burn. This finding showed that even when the caregiver checked the temperature of the water and was present for the duration of the bath some children still had bathing scald burns.
It is strongly suggested that hot water heaters be regulated so that the maximum hot temperature cannot be over 120 degrees. There are varying types of water heaters and varying local codes. Your plumber or the source of all information “YouTube” can show you how to check or regulate the temperature.
Remember to keep hot drinks and pot handles out of reach of children and never leave children alone in the bathroom or kitchen. Any hot substance can scald a child and it can happen quicker than the blink of an eye.
By Sally Robinson, MD
Keeping Kids Healthy
University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB)
Published August 2023