The Injury That Affects 486,000 Americans Every Year

preventing burns

February 4-10 is Burn Awareness Week.

Burns are an extremely common injury. According to the American Burn Association, someone in the United States sustains a burn injury requiring treatment almost every minute. That’s approximately 486,000 serious burn injuries a year! In fact, the University of Vermont Medical Center has seen more than 300 clinic visits and almost 50 trauma admissions annually over the past three years for burn-related injuries.

Who is at risk?

When it comes to burns, children and older adults are at increased risk. Both age groups have thinner layers of skin, which means they can have more serious burns at lower temperatures and at shorter periods of exposure. A common type of burn is a scald burn caused by hot liquid or steam coming in contact with your skin.

Studies have shown that 85-90% of scald burns are related directly to cooking, drinking, or serving hot liquids. A liquid doesn’t have to be boiling (212° F) to cause a scald burn. Seconds of exposure to water at 140° F can cause a burn serious enough to require surgery!

How to reduce your risk for burns

Because the majority of scald burns occur at home, there is more you can do to reduce the risk for yourself and your family.

Water from the Faucet

  1. Set the temperature on your hot water heater at or below 120 degrees
  2. Check the temperature of water coming out of your faucet! Safe water temperature for bathing is 100° F

Hot Liquids

  1. Use spill-resistant “travel mugs” for drinking hot beverages
  2. Place hot liquids and foods in the center of a table or toward the back of the counter
  3. Don’t place hot liquids on tablecloths or towels that can be pulled down by children
  4. Check your kitchen and home for “trip” hazards before carrying hot liquids


  1. Be cautious while microwaving food. If microwaving prepacked soups, choose containers with wide bases or pour the soup into a traditional bowl to avoid potential spills
  2. Never heat a baby bottle in the microwave!
  3. Open microwaved packages slowly and away from your face

If a scald burn does occur, you want to treat it right away. Cool the burn by placing it under cool or lukewarm running water for 3 to 5 minutes. Do not apply ice, butter, or lotion to the burn. Cover the scalded area with a clean dry cloth. If the burn is large or looks bad, contact your doctor or call 911.

Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and Children’s Hospital. 

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