How to Treat Steam Burns

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For most people, the kitchen is the most probable source of steam burns.
For most people, the kitchen is the most probable source of steam burns. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Burns are a common problem for people of all ages and occupations, particularly if they are not careful around hot things. Most burns can be sorted into a number of categories based on the phenomenon that caused the burn. For example, electrical burns are caused by electricity, while cold temperature burns are caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. Burns caused by steam fall under the category of heat burns and are treated using the same methods as other heat burns.

Burn Degrees

Being able to gauge the severity of the steam burn is how you decide whether to treat the burn by yourself, head out to see a doctor, or call for emergency services. Although the severity of the burn is not based on a single factor, the degree of the burn makes for a convenient shorthand. You will not need medical treatment for a first-degree burn that resembles sunburn in its redness and mild swelling. In contrast, you should probably seek out medical treatment if the burn is second degree, meaning that the area is blistered and swollen. If your steam burn is more serious than that and/or the pain from the burn does not match its seeming severity, then you should immediately seek out emergency services because there is a good chance that it is a third-degree burn. Other factors in gauging the severity of a steam burn include but are not limited to the age of the victim, the health of the victim, and the size of the affected area. Keep in mind that if you are uncertain, it is better to be safe than to be sorry.

First Aid

First aid differs depending on the degree of the burn. For first-degree burns, you can simply soak the affected area in cold water for a few minutes before rubbing some skin care ointment onto the area and then bandaging it using gauze. You can use the same steps for second-degree burns provided that you take care not to rupture the blisters. In contrast, if you are faced with a third-degree burn, you should immediately call for emergency services and then wait for expert attention. Do not soak the burn or rub ointment onto the affected area. Instead, raise the affected area above the level of the heart and cover it with a cool but clean cloth if absolutely necessary.

Home Care

You will likely be responsible for the bulk of care during the recovery period if you are dealing with either a first or second-degree burn. Take care to carefully wash the affected area once a day so as to not cause further damage, rub a doctor-approved ointment if necessary onto the burn, and then bandage it using fresh gauze. You should ignore any blisters from the steam burn, but if the blisters are interfering too much with your normal function, you may want to consult a doctor about draining the blister. Otherwise, you should be fine if you take analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve the pain from the burn.

Final Steps

Keep mind that skin healing from a steam burn will itch as it heals. No matter how safe it seems and how tempting it might be, do not scratch the affected area. Not only can this cause further damage to the healing skin, but an opened wound can become infected if you are not careful. Be sure to check the steam burn for signs of infection during the daily cleaning routine and if it seems infected, go see a doctor right away.

Tips & Warnings

  • Never apply creams or jellies to a burn without doctor approval.
  • Never break a blister in a partial thickness burn, this will often lead to severe infection.
  • Many of you may be more familiar with the older burn terms: 1st degree (superficial), 2nd degree (partial-thickness), and 3rd degree (full-thickness)
  • Don't wait to call 911, we can provide dry, sterile dressings, IVs for patients in shock, and medication for pain. At the very least offer advice even in a minor burn situation.

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