Young children and older adults are at particularly high risk for burn injuries. Children have immature motor and cognitive skills, strong dependence on adults for supervision and danger avoidance, and an inability to rescue themselves. Older adults often have decreased reaction times, impaired mobility and may suffer from the effects of a pre-existing health condition.
Young children and older adults also have thinner dermal layers of their skin compared to members of other age groups. This leads to deeper burns at lower temperatures and shorter exposure times. When exposed to the same quantity of hot liquid, a child will likely suffer burns over a larger percentage of her total body surface than an adult.
Water does not have to be boiling to cause a severe burn. The boiling point for water is 212° F. It takes just 2 seconds of exposure to 148° F water to cause a burn sever enough to require surgery. Hot water heaters should be set to 120° F, or just below the medium setting. A safe bathing temperature is 100° F.
The vast majority (80-95%) of scald burns are related cooking with, drinking, and serving hot liquids. Coffee is often served at 175° F, making it a high-risk for causing immediate and severe scald burns when spilled or pulled down.
So what can you do to prevent scald burns? Here is a checklist developed by the National Scald Prevention Campaign:
– Set your water heater to 120° F, or just below the medium setting.
– Use a thermometer to test the water coming out of your bath water tap.
– Run your hand through bath water to test for hot spots.
– Use back burners and turn pot handles toward the back of the stove so children cannot pull them down.
– Use oven mitts when cooking or handling hot food and drinks.
– Stir and test food cooked in the microwave before serving. Open heated containers away from you from back to front.
– Keep children away from the stove when cooking by using a safety gate for younger children and marking with tape a 3-foot “no-kid zone” for older children.
– Keep hot drinks away from the edge of tables and counters and avoid using tablecloths and placemats.
– Use a “travel mug” with a tight-fitting lid for all hot drinks.
– Never hold or carry a child while you have a hot drink in your hand.
This year, during National Burn Awareness Week, take some time to think about how prevalent and dangerous scald burns are and how easy they can be to prevent.