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Water Can Burn Like Fire

Boiling water in pot

Almost everyone has burned their tongue on a hot drink, or pulled their hand out from under the tap after feeling the water is uncomfortably warm. It's one of those things that is assumed is universally known: hot or boiling water can hurt you. That's why it's disturbing that stories of kids either purposely exposing themselves or others to extremely hot water are now making headlines.

"The water that comes from your tap, if you haven't turned your water heater down, is about 146 degrees Fahrenheit," said Annette Matherly, RN, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Burn Center at University of Utah Health. "At that temperature a burn can happen in two seconds."

Compare that 146 temperature to the temperature of boiling water: 212 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature a burn happens instantly.

Parents are being warned to monitor what their children are viewing online and to warn them of the dangers of internet challenges. However, parents should also know what to do if their child is burned - either accidentally or intentionally. "That's when we go to the four Cs," said Matherly. "Cool, clean, cover, and call."

Cool It

Place the burned area in cool—not cold—water. It should remain in the water for at least five minutes take the heat out of the tissues. Do not make the water to cold and do not use ice as this may cause further skin damage.

Clean It

Gently wash the area with clean water and a mild soap.

Cover It

Loosely wrap the affected area in clean, dry gauze to stop the air from hitting exposed nerve endings and to avoid possible infection.

Call for Help

Burns can be serious injuries with lifelong impacts If a burn appears to be serious it is important to get professional help. A doctor can assess how a burn should be treated, and watch for signs of infection.

"If someone suffers a burn injury from hot water it is important to treat it right away," said Matherly. "Of course, the better thing to do would be to practice safety procedures and avoid the burn altogether."

To help kids avoid accidental burns hot water there are several things parents can do around the house.

  • Turn down water heater temperature so it's no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Create a "no kids" zone around stoves, ovens, and other hot items
  • Keep hot drinks away from the edges of tables and counters
  • Use a travel mug with a tight fitting lid for hot drinks
  • Place pits and pans on back burners with handles turned away
  • Never leave a child unattended in the bath, or let them adjust the bath temperature
  • Put appliance cords out of reach and away from the counter's edge

Of course, there is only so much a parent can do. Eventually kids will make their own decisions. Hopefully they will make the right ones. "Kids need to know that water can burn like fire," said Matherly. "And the impacts can be just as life altering—or ending."