This year National Burn Awareness Week is February 1 – 7. This is the 30th anniversary of this important week, which was developed as a vehicle to promote burn awareness and prevention among the general public, as well as high-risk groups, like children and older adults. The goal is always to spread a common message of awareness and prevention, and this year’s message is Scald Prevention. The American Burn Association and National Scald Prevention Campaign provide a wealth of information on this important issue.

High-Risk Groups

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 self-rescue. Older adults often have decreased reaction times, impaired mobility and may suffer from the effects of a pre-existing health condition.

Furthermore, young children and older adults 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.

Scald Statistics

In 2013, an estimated 68,536 scald burn injuries were seen in hospital emergency departments in the U.S.; 15,588 (23%) occurred to children under age 4 or younger.

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.

Unsafe and dangerously high water temperatures were found in 41% of inspected urban homes, with rental properties at greater risk for unsafe levels. You should test your faucet water temperature using a candy or meat thermometer after allowing hot water to run for 1-3 minutes.

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. In children under the age of 5, approximately 27-57% of scalds occur from cups, mugs, and tableware containing hot liquids; most commonly from a pull-down (48%) or spill (32%) mechanism.

An estimated 9-20% of cooking-related burn injuries occur to young children while pulling hot food and liquids from microwave ovens. An overwhelming 84% majority of scald burns occur in the home, compared to 73% for other types of burns. In children under the age of 5, the in-home injury rate increases to 95%. Scald burns from hot liquid or steam comprise 34% of overall burn injuries admitted to U.S. burn centers. However, 62% of these scald burns are to children less than 5 years old. Scald burns to adults aged 60 or more frequently result in loss of independence and reliance on skilled care facilities or in-home nursing care.

Between 2007 and 2013, the proportion of burn center admissions due to scald burns has continued to increase each year from 29.8% to 33.7%.

Common Factors that Contribute to Scald Burn Injuries in Children

Some of the most common factors that contribute to scald burn injuries in children are:

  • Lack of adequate supervision – caregivers may be distracted, substance-impaired, or sleeping when a scald burn occurs; use of a sibling or immature sitter, infrequent observation and neglect are also causes.
  • Failure to recognize or identify scald dangers – caregivers may not know of potential burn-causing hazards in their environment or may be inexperienced in anticipating potentially dangerous situations; they may leave hot beverages within a child’s reach, carry a child while carrying a hot beverage, or fail to check the temperature of a child’s bath water.
  • Giving a child too much responsibility – caregivers may give a child responsibility beyond his or her developmental ability, such as allowing a child to bathe or care for a younger sibling, or cooking or using a microwave at a young age.

What can you do to Prevent Scald Burns?

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 and beyond, take some time to think about how prevalent and dangerous scald burns are and how easy they can be to prevent. Share this message with your friends, family and co-workers, and remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Benjamin Franklin.