December 3, 2008  
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Featured Issue: Prevent Scalding

Scalding Hazards Are Ever Present At Home

If you've ever been scalded - even slightly - by steam escaping from a tea kettle or vegetable steamer you know how startlingly painful and slow-to-heal a hot water burn can be. What you may not know is that a full 20 percent of all burns are from scalds. Thousands of children are hospitalized each year for scald burns, which are among the most painful, disfiguring and costly injuries. Severe scalds can require skin grafts and may leave scars that will follow the victim for their entire life.

Most Common Causes and Victims

Scalding hot tap water, bath or shower water; overly-hot foods or drinks; microwaved food and stovetop cooking steam can all cause a severe burn within seconds. Secondary injuries are not uncommon with scalds, either.

  • Scalding formula can not only injure an infant's mouth at the site of initial contact, it can continue to burn delicate throat tissue as the hot liquid passes down the baby's throat.
  • A grandparent can't react quickly enough to a sudden change in the shower water temperature and is not only badly scalded but suffers a heart attack and falls, breaking a hip.
  • A new mother accidentally scalds her newborn when she gets distracted by a phone call and forgets to test the temperature of the baby's bathwater.
  • A hungry middle-schooler microwaves an after-school snack and pops it into his mouth without nibbling it first to see how hot it is.
  • During a dinner party you're cooking and talking to guests at the same time� and get badly scalded while reaching across the boiling pasta pot for a spice bottle.
  • The babysitter gets scalded while testing your child's bathwater because you forgot to tell her that the new water heater is set REALLY high and you haven't gotten around to re-setting it.

This is how scald burns happen. Without warning, when you get distracted and forget to be cautious, or when you have no way of knowing that overly-hot water is about to come into contact with skin.

Age has nothing to do with the risk of scalding, although the delicate skin of infants, children makes them especially susceptible to scald burns, and the slowed reaction time of the elderly can make their scalding events far worse. Diabetics are also at a higher risk of receiving scald burns.

Two Approaches to Scald Protection

There are two methods of avoiding scalds at home.

  1. The first is Improved Awareness, which involves educating your family, from their earliest years, to be conscious of where and when scald hazards are present.
  2. The second is to Reduce the Temperature Setting of your water heater, and / or to install scald prevention devices for the water systems in your home.

Water heaters usually come from U.S. factories set at 140-degrees Fahrenheit or above. To put that in perspective, consider this: An adult exposed to 140-degree water will be seriously burned within five seconds. A child or elderly person will receive the same degree of burn in half that time. The simplest method of protecting your family against scalds throughout the house is to reduce the temperature setting to between 120-degrees and 125-degrees F. If that isn't possible, installing scald-protection devices can help.

See related tips and resources on this page for more valuable information.

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