February 1-7 marks the 30th anniversary of National Burn Awareness Week. This a special week devoted to promoting awareness of burn injuries, their different types and causes, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent them. This year, special focus is given to raising awareness of burn injuries caused by scalding liquids or steam.
According to the American Burn Association, liquid and steam scalding injuries have become an epidemic in the U.S. Last year, approximately 486,000 people received burns serious enough to require medical treatment and, in many cases, hospitalization. In recent years, the proportion of scald burns to other types of burn injuries treated in burn centers has creeped upward nearly four percent.
The Burn Foundation reports that 250,000 children are burned seriously enough to require medical treatment every year. In fact, children 0-17 years old, and especially young children age 4 and younger, are at the highest risk of being seriously burned.
Of the 250,000 children receiving medical treatment for burns every year, approximately 15,000 are hospitalized and 1,100 die from their injuries. Some 100,000 cases of pediatric burn injuries were caused by scalding, according to Burn Foundation data.
Young children are at a particular high risk for burn injuries because they have underdeveloped motor and cognitive skills, a strong dependence on adults for supervision and avoiding dangers, and an inability to rescue themselves in an emergency.
Elderly people are another group at high risk for burn injuries. According to the American Burn Association, older adults often have decreased reaction times and / or impaired mobility. Many also suffer from health conditions that increase their chances of being burned.
Both young children and older adults also have dermal layers that are thinner than members of other age groups. Their thinner skin composition allows for deeper burns at lower temperatures and shorter exposure times.
For children, a small quantity of hot liquid can burn a larger percentage of his or her body surface, whereas the same quantity spilled would cover less surface area than an adult.
Between 80-95 percent of most scald burns are caused by cooking with hot liquids, drinking them, or serving them. Hot coffee, for instance, is often served at 175 degrees F., making it hot enough to case intermediate and severe scalding burns.
For children younger than 5, up to 57 percent of scald burns are caused by handling cups, mugs, and other tableware containing hot liquids. Most of those burns are the result of pulling containers of hot liquid or food off of stoves, microwave ovens, and other surfaces. Spills are also a leading cause of scald burns in young children.