Kids' burns from steam inhalation soar

Staff WritersAAP
A burns specialist says steam inhalation poses a serious risk of injury to children.
Camera IconA burns specialist says steam inhalation poses a serious risk of injury to children. Credit: AAP

There's been a spike in the number of children in hospital after being seriously burnt by steam from inhalations used to treat cold and flu symptoms.

Paediatric burns surgeon Rachel D'Cruz said 30 children had been admitted to The Children's Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick this year with burns after accidents involving steam inhalers.

That's more than three times as many as at the same time last year.

Half of all steam inhalation burns required hospital admission and this year one-third of those required skin grafting.

The most common injuries are burns to the groin or genital area, caused by children accidentally spilling the boiling liquid on themselves and burns to the fingers.

Dr D'Cruz said the increase in cases is a serious concern, particularly given the winter cold and flu season had only just begun.

"While steam inhalation and the use of inhalants are often suggested to help clear nasal and respiratory congestion, they pose a serious burns risk for children and should not be used," she said.

There was no proven benefit to using steam inhalation and the damage it could cause was not worth the risk, Dr D'Cruz added.

"I really urge parents to use alternative options to relieve their children's symptoms.

"Children's skin burns quicker, deeper and at lower temperatures than adults, meaning an accident like this can cause long-lasting injuries and life-long scarring."

She advised parents to act quickly if a child was burnt and put the injured area under cool running water for 20 minutes.

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