Toddlers suffer 10 times as many burns and scalds as older children
According to new research in the UK, 1-year-old children receive 10 times the amount of burns and scalds as their older siblings.
The authors of the new study, which is published in Archives of Diseases in Childhood, say that half of all burns and scalds cases seen in European hospitals are made up of injuries to children.
Such cases have the potential for lifelong scarring or even death, so the researchers wanted to see what could be done to prevent these severe burns from occurring.
The researchers reviewed the medical records of 1,215 children under the age of 16 who were treated in emergency care departments and specialist burns units in the UK. The majority (58%) of the children had been scalded, while 32% had sustained contact burns. The remaining children had burns from other causes.
All of the scald injuries in the study occurred at home. This most often happened when a child reached up and pulled down a cup of tea or other hot drink - 48% of these injuries happened this way.
In children aged between 5 and 16, scalds were more likely to occur as a result of spilling hot water during food preparation - this accounted for 76% of scalds in this age group.
Two thirds of all contact burns were to the hands In the under-5s, and 81% of these burns were caused by touching hot items - such as hair straighteners and clothes irons - in the home. In older children, however, half of the contact burns occurred outside of the home.
The majority of burns and scalds occur in 1 year olds
After the age of 3, children seem to be much less likely to suffer burns or scalds.
Overall, three quarters of the children suffering burns were under 5 years old. The majority of injuries occurred in 1 year olds, who were 10 times more likely to be injured than older children. Nearly 1 in 5 burns were serious enough for the child to be admitted to a specialist burns unit.
The researchers noticed that after the age of 3, children seem to be much less likely to suffer burns or scalds.
They think this might be because by this age, the children are more aware of the dangers of heat - because their parents become more vigilant or because at that age, the children are spending less time in the home.
Some of the children were also injured intentionally - about 8% of the children in the study were referred to social services as abuse victims, though as this study was investigating how to prevent accidental burns and scalds, data from these children was not included in the analysis.
What could be done to minimize risk?
The authors of the study make several recommendations that they hope will help reduce the number of these injuries.
A previous study taken into account by the authors suggests that hot drinks can cause disfiguring scalds for up to 11 minutes after being poured. Although the authors concede that it might not be practical to enforce a universal product modification for some items responsible for childhood burns, such as mugs, they think it could be effective in products such as clothes irons or hair straighteners.
Hair straighteners retain enough heat for up to 8 minutes after being switched off to cause severe burns, so manufacturers may be able to make their products more safe for being around toddlers.
"Successful prevention is most likely to involve product design or environmental modification," the researchers say, "and should be considered for hair straightener, iron, and oven-related burns."
"Public information messages, children's centers, health visitor or family nurse practitioners should address safety education as a matter of routine," they add.
A 2012 study found that the risk of burn injuries to children may be linked with housing quality.
Written by David McNamee
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