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What to Do if Your Child Gets Scalded

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What to Do if Your Child Gets Scalded

Feb 06, 2023

Scalds are the most common burn injury for children under five, they are painful and can be life-changing. Unfortunately, it’s easier then you think for a child to suffer severe burns from hot drinks, bathwater, and microwave foods. Prevention is always the best first step, but if your child did get a scald injury, would you know what to do to minimize the damage and pain? Annette Matherly from the Utah Burn Center tells you about the four C’s; four steps that can really make a difference that everyone should know in case a child you love gets scalded.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: What to do if your child gets scalded. We'll talk about that next on The Scope.

Annette Matherly is with the University of Utah Burn Center. Scald injuries, of course prevention is always the best thing you can do, is you want to prevent a scald injury because they are devastating, they're painful, and they can last a lifetime. But if you can't prevent it, if something happens, what do you do? We're going to find out right now. First of all, scald injuries, they're pretty common right? Is that the burn injury?

Annette: It is. In fact it's the top burn injury for those under the age of five. But scalds are on the gamut of age, so there's no one safe from hot liquids.

Interviewer: Under five, really important you pay attention. But just kids in general, they're all getting them.

Annette: Absolutely.

Interviewer: So why are scald injuries so terrible? What makes them so bad?

Why Scald Injuries Are Dangerous and How to Avoid Them

Annette: Well, I think it's because you don't realize that things are so hot. In fact, we teach our children that hot liquids burn like fire. But when you have a hot frappuccino or your beverage of choice in your hand, you don't think that it's 160 Fahrenheit, and that can cause a burn injury in just one second in a child. If you think about the water that comes from your tap, if you haven't turned your hot water heater down, then that water is about 146 which would cause injury in a couple of seconds. So it's these things that we use every day that we don't think are dangerous that absolutely can cause devastating injury.

Interviewer: Yeah, I think that's because most of the time when you think scald injury you go back to school and they taught the pot of boiling water that's the thing that you got to watch out most for, but that's not even the case really, is it? I mean, it's dangerous but, some of these other things are more dangerous.

Annette: Absolutely. I'm not knocking the scalding water on the stove, because of course we should keep our pan handles in and cook on the back burner, and we have lots of children that come in that way too. And so, that's really important, that whole circle of safety around the stove. So to make sure there's about three feet that your child doesn't enter when you're cooking anything. So that's a cause of injury too but the bathtub scalds, the "I'm drinking a hot drink" scalds. In fact, the other thing that we say is, have a kid get a lid. So we want you to use lids on your travel mugs so that we can keep those injuries from occurring to small children.

Interviewer: Because those liquids we can handle drinking gets on young skin and it's just terrible.

Annette: Absolutely. They're so curious. They just want to reach up and they want to pull that cup down.

The Four C's of Scald Injury Treatment

Interviewer: Prevention again, the most important thing you can do as far as you know, you just don't even want it to happen. But what should a parent do at that point?

Cool the Injury

Annette: Probably the easiest thing to remember is, the four C's. And those stand for cool it, so you want after the injury has occurred, you want to quickly take your child or take whoever's been injured and cool that injury under cool but not cold water for about 5 to 10 minutes. Take that heat out of the tissue, remember to remove any diapers or any clothing that the child has on because those can also retain heat.

Clean the Injury

The second thing that you want to do is clean it, and that includes the sticky noodles, the pieces of carrot or potato that are on the child, or inside the diaper. So you want to cool it, you want to clean it. And then, you want to keep your child warm.

Cover the Injury

So one of the most important things to do after you've cooled and cleaned it, is to cover your child in something that will cause them not to be cold, because we want to get heat to that area and open up those blood vessels, and allow perfusion to occur that's happened to an area of injury. So wrap a blanket or wrap a towel around the person that's injured, and then call for help. And that's much simpler I think than people imagine, because you can call from the community directly to the burn center and have your needs addressed right over the phone.

Call for Help

So if you have a child that's been injured you can call 801-581-2700, talk to one of our charge nurses that's on call 24 hours a day. Be linked in with a physician who can get you immediate assistance, whether that be being admitted to the burn center or an outpatient appointment, or hopefully just being able to take care of it at home with some simple instructions on what to do. And we've received many calls from the community and helped them.

So good rule of thumb to remember is, if its life threatening, then call 911 and get the help that you need. If it is a minor injury, even if you don't think it perhaps needs to be seen, then it's a good idea to call the burn center. We're on call 24 hours a day and at least run it by us, and we can help figure out if it should be seen or not. Because sometimes it doesn't look significant, but it can cause injury that maybe you wouldn't have thought of.


updated: February 6, 2023
originally published: February 4, 2015