How to Treat a Steam Burn
Thermal burns can come from many sources, many of them unfortunately common. Even the the sun can be very dangerous to our skin when not respected. More direct concerns are often from heat sources around the house like radiators and stoves in the kitchen. When boiling water, did you know that the steam which rises from the water is actually even more dangerous than the water itself? This is because the type of energy released as water turns to steam is known as latent heat. It is stronger and when it passes against our skin can cause serious damage. Knowing how to treat a steam burn is particularly important to prevent further damage, so let oneHOWTO fill you in on your considerations.
How do you get a steam burn?
The most common steam burns you will be exposed to are found in the kitchen. As steam is released as water turns into vapor after boiling point, it often comes from pans on the stove. If you are heating a kettle or boiling water to cook some rice, the steam which emanates from the stop is usually visible. This makes it easier to avoid.
However, steam burns often occur when we're not being careful. If we leave the lid on a pan, then the steam might be bubbling underneath and creating pressure. When we lift the lid off the pan without any protection over our hands, the steam can come out very forcefully and burn our skin immediately. This is why we need to be extra careful when using a pressure cooker, so make sure you know how to safely release the steam before opening one.
Microwave cooking has its own hidden dangers. If making a ready meal with a film lid or if we cover a dish in plastic wrap to keep the heat in, removing these tops can be tricky. Even when the dish seems stable, opening up the lids can result in a rush of steam which is difficult to evade. Always be careful when opening anything with a closed lid as the trapped steam is unstable.
Symptoms of steam burn
Like all other burns, there are different degrees and treatment will depend on the severity of your scalding (another word for burn from water or steam). These are:
- First degree burns: these are the least sever of burns and scalds. They will only affect the top layer of skin (epidermis) and will heal themselves relatively quickly. Sunburn is generally considered a first degree burn, but prolonged exposure to sunlight can result in worse.
- Second degree burns: this is when the burn goes deeper into the second layer of skin (dermis) and will result in a blister. Liquid will form underneath and can look pretty bad. They usually heal within 2 - 3 weeks, but you can get severe ones which take longer.
- Third degree burn: This is when it has gone through all of the skin and exposes the muscle underneath. These are very worrying and can give the skin a white leathery appearance. Amputation can result if not treated properly and there is a greater risk of infection.
- Fourth degree burns: when you are burned so severely it goes through the flesh to the bone. Your skin and muscle will not recover (as it is been burned away), so amputation is usually the treatment. However, many fourth degree burns are fatal.
If you have a first or second degree burn, you can often treat them at home. Severe second degree burns or worse will need professional medical treatment. However, even minor burns can get infected, so always be careful.
A common misconception is that the worse the burn, the worse the pain. This is because our nerves are at the top of the skin, so if the burn is worse it will have damaged the nerves to the extent you will not feel them as much.
Should I see a doctor for my steam burn?
There are some things to consider whether you should see a doctor about your burn. If the burn is on a sensitive area (face, eyes, ears or genitals) you should seek a doctor's advice.
The appearance of the burn will be able to tell you. If the burn is deep into the skin,m then you definitely need to see a doctor. The size will also determine your course of action after a scalding. The general rule is if the burn is larger than the palm of your hand, seek immediate medical attention.
If you have had the burn for a while and it is starting to look infected, then you should see a doctor. It might only be a minor infection, but it could lead to something more severe such as blood poisoning.
How to treat a steam burn
Once you have decided your scald is safe enough to treat at home, then here is your course of action:
- It seems obvious, but make sure to get out of harm's way. If you are near the source of the steam, move away from it as quickly and safely as possible.
- Cool the burn with cool, but not ice cold water. If the water is icy, it can damage the healthy skin around the steam burn. You can use other cool drinks like milk or a soft drink if water isn't available. Do this for at least 10 minutes.
- Remove clothing around the area, unless the burn is sticking to the material already. This can cause more damage. Go to the emergency room if you are unsure whether or not you should remove certain clothing.
- If the burn is severe, make sure the person does not develop hypothermia from the shock. Keep the person warm, but do nut put anything over the affected area.
- If you have a minor burn, which has not broken the skin, you can loosely wrap it in plastic wrap or cling film. The wrap is thin enough that it will not insulate it and will allow you to cool it. However, it will protect the burn from infection. Make sure it is fresh and clean, not used cling film which could provide infection. It will also help reduce pain as the pain of this type of burn is caused by exposure to the air. Finally, using cling film will help reduce the long term effects of a burn as keeping it hydrated will reduce scarring. A clean plastic bag will also work if no plastic wrap or cling film is available.
- Pain will likely be experienced with first degree or second degree burns. Give a mild analgesic, ibuprofen ideally as it will also acts as an anti-inflammatory.
What not to do with a steam burn
If you have a steam burn, do not put anything too cold on it. Never put ice directly onto the burn. While it may seem cooling, it could be damaging the healthy skin around it.
Never put something greasy or oily on the burn. A common misconception is that putting butter on a burn will help it heal, but this is not the case. Once the skin has started to repair itself, you may be allowed to put creams on the area, but never use a cream on a fresh burn without a doctor's advice, especially if it has broken the skin. If you have mild sunburn, a special aftersun lotion can be applied, but only use a quality product.
If a blister does occur, do not burst or pick it. This will not only increase the likelihood of scarring, but an exposed wound can lead to infection.
Do not wrap in a fabric plaster or gauze. The fabric will stick to the wound and severely hamper its ability to heal.
This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.
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