The highest frequency of burns occurs in the kitchen, with one-year-olds at the greatest risk for injury by scalding, a new study shows. How are we letting this happen?


January 19, 2005 -- Most parents know that the kitchen can be a dangerous place for kids. Yet a new study conducted from 1997 to 2002 found that there were an estimated 17,237 burns treated for children age five and younger, with one-year-olds at the highest risk. How are parents letting this happen?

According to the study, "Kitchen Scalds and Thermal Burns in Children Five and Younger," which appeared in the January issue of Pediatrics, the high frequency of scalds among one-year-olds can be related to the fact that their motor skill development outpaces their cognitive development, so they can physically grab at something without understanding the associated risks of injury.

The study also contends that children, especially toddlers, can reach hot liquids on elevated surfaces (think boiling soup on a stove, or even coffee on a kitchen table), yet their parents or caregivers fail to recognize either the danger or the consequences. Unlike dangers involving motor vehicles or poisons, parents are not as vigilant in their own kitchens.

Among the study's other findings:

  • Scalds were approximately twice as common as thermal burns, and resulted in significantly more hospitalizations
  • One-year-olds accounted for the largest percentage for each burn
  • More boys were injured in both burn types
  • Two patterns accounted for half of all scald injuries: "reached up and pulled down pot from stove or other elevated surface," and, "grabbed, overturned, or spilled pot onto self"
  • Thermal burns were primarily caused by touching a hot pan
  • Hot water was the most common causative agent overall; grease ranked second

To prevent such injuries, parents should use intervention strategies that have been around for decades, including to:

  • Turn pots on stoves so that handles face the wall
  • Place hot beverages in the center of a table, out of toddler's reach
  • Remove tablecloths from tables
  • Keep children out of the kitchen during food preparation
  • Avoid drinking hot beverages with a child on your lap
  • Place a guard in front of the stove to prevent your child's reaching it

If your child does receive a minor burn, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

  • Hold burned area under cool running water for 15 minutes.
  • Do NOT apply ointments or butter.
  • Cover the area with dry gauze.
  • Do NOT pop blisters.
  • Consult a doctor if burns occur on the face, hands, genitalia, feet, or for any burn on an infant.

If the burn is severe, the CDC suggests:

  • Have one person call 911 or the local emergency number while another person runs cool water over the burned area. Do NOT use ice.
  • Do NOT put ointment or grease on the burn and do NOT try to remove pieces of cloth from the burned area.
  • DO NOT break blisters.
  • DO NOT give the victim anything to eat or drink.
  • DO raise the burned limbs to minimize swelling.

The kitchen is a room filled with hazards, yet it's a place where family activity is centered. What do you do to ensure that your kids stay safe in the kitchen? Share your tips and stories, on our message board below:

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