Scalds – A Burning Issue

Bethesda Health | February 6, 2014

Scald burns can happen to anyone, but older adults are considered a high risk group and most likely to incur such injuries. A scald burn is when you come in contact with hot liquid or steam that damages one or more layers of the skin. The majority of scald burns happen in the home, in connection with the preparation or serving of hot food or beverages, or from exposure to hot tap water in bathtubs or showers. Older adults have thinner skin so hot liquids cause deeper burns with brief exposure. Due to a medical condition or taking certain medications, older adults may experience a decrease in their ability to feel heat. They may not realize the water is too hot until it’s too late. Older adults may also have conditions that increase their risk of falling in the bathtub or shower or while carrying hot liquids.

Scald Injury Severity Factors

The severity of a scald injury depends on the following:

Tap Water Scald Prevention

Tap water scalds are often more severe than other related scalds. Tap water scalds are almost completely preventable, through a combination of behavior and environmental changes. The American Burn Association recommends the following the below safety tips to decrease the risk to yourself and those you love from tap water scalds.

Setting a Safe Hot Water Temperature

Water Temperature

Time for a third degree burn to occur

155° F

68° C

1 second

140° F

60° C

5 seconds

127° F

52° C

1 minute

120° F

48° C

5 minutes

100° F

38° C

Safe temperature for bathing

For more information about preventing scald burns, contact the American Burn Association at

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