Burn prevention of all types of burns is a worthy goal. In burn units across the United States, 22.5 percent of the patients are children, and most of these children are admitted for scald burns.

Scald burns occur from accidental spills of hot liquids or from hot tap water. Most scald burns involved the preparation or consumption of food or drink. Large burns not only hurt but can result in significant pain, permanent scarring, loss of the use of limbs and even death. Most scald burns can be prevented.

Scald burns happen most often in children 5 and younger and the elderly. Several things can be done to prevent these burns. To prevent accidental spills always make sure that the handles of pans are turned away so young children cannot reach up and grab them and extension cords to coffee pots and other electric cookers are not hanging off the counter.

Dr. K.P. Quinlan and associates presented their research in “Pediatrics” in February about severe scald burns caused by children as young as 2 years old opening a microwave door and spilling the heated contents over their face and chest. They found that 9 percent of the scald burns were from young children opening microwave ovens. They reported in a previous paper that from 2002 to 2012, 7,274 children younger than 5 years old were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for scald burns from microwave-heated contents.

Boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Approximately one second of exposure to 160 degrees Fahrenheit water will result in a third-degree burn, which is the most severe burn and will leave a scar. Thirty seconds of exposure to 130 degrees Fahrenheit will cause a third-degree burn. This means children and the elderly will be burned severely in a short time — less than half of a minute.

The researchers recorded whether children between 15 months and 4 years old could do the following: open a microwave with a push mechanism, open one with a pull mechanism, remove the container from a microwave and turn on the microwave. They found that children as young as 17 months could open a push- and a pull-type microwave door, remove what was in the oven and even turn it on. Nearly all children were able to perform these tasks by age 2.

The researchers working with Underwriters Laboratories developed a proposed change in the mechanism for opening the microwave door that required two simultaneous but dissimilar actions. This is similar to the pill bottle push and turn at the same time. Beginning in 2023, the design of microwave doors will change, and children will no longer be able to easily open the door and suffer severe scald burns.

Treatment of scalds is to put the scalded skin in cold water or apply cold, wet cloths. If still red, hurting or blistered after 30 minutes, go the emergency room. Don’t apply any cream, ointment, butter, oil or ice.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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