First Aid for Scalding: How to Treat Hot Water Burn Injury

Many burns are often caused by dry heat, chemical, and electrical burns. But a burn caused by steam or hot water — is called a scald. Knowing how to administer first aid for hot water burns is essential for everyone. In this article, we will discuss the steps you should take to provide immediate care for hot water burns.

Hot water burns can happen in various settings, such as the kitchen, bathroom, or workplace, and they can range from mild to severe. Here are the steps for first aid for hot water burns:

  1. Prioritize safety by turning off the source of heat.
  2. Cool the burn with cool (not cold) running water for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove jewelry and tight clothing around the burn.
  4. Gently pat the burn dry with a clean, sterile cloth or gauze.
  5. Apply a sterile, non-stick bandage or gauze to cover the burn.
  6. Use over-the-counter pain relievers for pain and inflammation.
  7. Seek immediate medical attention for severe burns or specific circumstances.


scalding hot water burn

Prioritize Safety

Before rushing to help a burn victim, ensure that the scene is safe for both you and the injured person. Turn off the source of the hot water, if applicable, and make sure there is no further danger of burns.


Cool the Burn

The first and most crucial step in treating a hot water burn is to cool the affected area. Run cool (not cold) water over the burn for about 10-20 minutes. This helps lower the skin temperature and stops the burn from progressing deeper. Do not use ice or very cold water, as extreme temperatures can cause further damage to the skin.


Remove Jewelry and Tight Clothing

If the burn is on an area of the body where jewelry or tight clothing is present, carefully remove these items. Burns can cause swelling, and leaving jewelry or tight clothing in place can exacerbate the injury.


Keep the Burn Clean

After cooling the burn, gently pat it dry with a clean, sterile cloth or gauze. Avoid rubbing the area, as this can irritate the skin further. It's essential to keep the burn clean to prevent infection.


Apply a Sterile Dressing

Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick bandage or gauze. Avoid using adhesive bandages directly on the burn, as they can stick to the wound and cause more pain when removed. A sterile dressing will help protect the burn from contamination and promote healing.


Use Pain Relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation associated with burns. Follow the recommended dosage instructions on the packaging or as advised by a healthcare professional.


Seek Medical Attention

While most minor hot water burns can be treated at home, it's crucial to recognize when medical attention is necessary. Seek immediate medical help if:

  • The burn covers a large area or is deep.
  • The burn affects sensitive areas like the face, hands, feet, or genitals.
  • The burn causes blisters or the skin appears charred or white.
  • The person is experiencing severe pain or signs of shock, such as rapid breathing, weakness, or confusion.
  • The burn is from chemicals or electrical sources.


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What is a Scald?

Scalds are slow-healing burns caused by moist heat. This burn can be risky because it destroys affected tissues and cells in the body. In more severe cases, burn victims can go into shock, which can be life-threatening.

Boiling water burns can be accidental, and they’re often caused by minor accidents when you are in a hurry or under pressure, such as spilling a hot drink on your skin. Steam from the oven can also cause scalding. Tap water burns are more likely if your hot water heater is set above 120°F.

Scald burns are widespread in the restaurant industry. This is because the water temperature in a restaurant kitchen must be kept high to prevent bacterial overgrowth and properly clean cookware.


What’s the Difference Between Burns and Scalds?

Burns and scalds are both forms of thermal injury. Treatment for both is generally similar, but scalds are typically confined to the outer layers of skin, while burns can cause extensive damage to deep tissue.

Human skin can withstand up to 44°C temperatures for a prolonged period of time, up to 6 hours, before suffering irreversible damage. With immersion scalds, the contact between the hot liquid and the skin is considerably longer than with spill scalds, thus increasing the severity of the injury.

First-degree burn or superficial burn is associated with scalds. It usually causes immediate pain. But if the hot water stays on the skin or covers a large body area, it can cause lasting damage. Severe burns can be and may even lead to death.


scalding hot water burn

Causes of Hot Water Burns

Hot water burns can result from various sources, including:

  • Boiling Water: Spills or splashes from boiling water while cooking or preparing hot beverages are common causes of burns.
  • Steam: Steam from cooking pots, kettles, or other appliances can scald the skin if it comes into contact.
  • Hot Tap Water: Water heaters set at high temperatures can lead to scald injuries, particularly in children or the elderly.
  • Hot Bath or Shower Water: Testing the water temperature before entering a bath or shower is essential to avoid scalds.

Degrees of Hot Water Burns

Hot water burns are classified into three degrees of severity:

  1. First-Degree Burns: These are the mildest and affect only the top layer of skin. They typically appear as red, painful areas and may develop minor swelling.
  2. Second-Degree Burns: These burns extend deeper into the skin and can cause blisters, intense pain, and swelling. They often require more time to heal.
  3. Third-Degree Burns: The most severe, third-degree burns damage all layers of the skin and may even affect underlying tissues. They can appear charred or white and are often less painful due to nerve damage.


What Are the Symptoms of Scalding or Hot Water Burn?

Scald burns can be excruciating, but the amount of pain is not always related to how serious the burn is. Even a severe burn may be relatively painless. Hot water burn may cause the following symptoms:

  • Blisters
  • Red or peeling skin
  • White or charred skin
  • Swelling

How do you treat a hot water burn at home?

If you have a minor burn caused by boiling water, you can consider using some home remedies to alleviate pain and promote healing. However, it's essential to remember that these remedies are for minor burns only. For more severe burns, it's crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Here are some home remedies for minor burns:

  • Cool Water: As an immediate response, run cool (not cold) water over the burn for about 10-20 minutes. This helps to cool the skin and reduce the severity of the burn.
  • Aloe Vera: Applying pure aloe vera gel or a commercial aloe vera product can help soothe the burn and promote healing. Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory and skin-repairing properties.
  • Cold Compress: Apply a cold, damp cloth or a cold compress (a clean cloth soaked in cold water) to the burn for short periods to alleviate pain and reduce swelling.


What ointment to put on a burn from boiling water?

For minor burns caused by boiling water, you can consider applying an over-the-counter topical antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin or a burn-specific ointment like Silvadene (silver sulfadiazine cream). These ointments can help prevent infection and keep the burn moist as it heals.


When to seek medical attention?

If you or someone else has suffered a scalding hot water burn, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If the burn covers more than 10% of the body, or if it is on the face, hands, feet, groin, buttocks, or a major joint, seek medical attention immediately, especially if the burn is deep, accompanied by other symptoms such as fever or chills, or if the person has a weakened immune system.