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Home : News : News
NEWS | Feb. 1, 2023

National Burn Awareness Week: Hot liquids can burn like fire

By Jessie R. Moreno 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Emergency Services Fire Protection Inspector

National Burn Awareness Week is from Feb. 5-11, 2023, and is a window of opportunity to help share awareness for preventing scald injuries.

A scald injury can happen at any age. Children, older adults and people with disabilities are especially at risk. Hot liquids from bath water, hot coffee and even microwaved soup can cause devastating injuries.

Most of us may be aware what the impact a first-, second-, or third-degree burn can cause on the human body. But the majority of us are unfamiliar with what scalding can have. Scalding recognition and prevention are not widely discussed as much as burns.

What’s the difference between a burn and a scald? Recognizing the difference between these two injuries will help you decide if the pain you or a family member is experiencing is a burn or a scald.


With no solid definition, burns can be complex injuries even in their simplest terms. A burn can be described as damage to skin cells and tissue caused by fire, heat, electricity, chemical, radiation, light or friction. Damaging muscle and fat can occur if the burn is severe. It can even reach the bone if it’s deep enough.


Scalds may only damage layers of skin, unlike burns, which can cause major deep tissue damage. Superficial, or first-degree burns, are associated with scalds. But if it can be considered severe enough, it can be as fatal as a third-degree burn and may even lead to death.

When a portion of the skin is exposed to a hot liquid or steam, scalding occurs. A scalding is often caused by hot bath water, hot food, cooking fluids like grease or a hot drink. The effect of a scalding injury can be devastating. The results of a scalding injury may require skin grafting and can have deadly consequences if not treated in time.

“In the United States, burns from hot tap water result in about 1,500 hospital admissions and 100 deaths per year” as reported by U.S. News and World Reports.

Most “fire-related injuries” are burns. In fact, approximately every 60 seconds someone in the U.S. sustains a burn injury serious enough to require treatment. Scald burns are the second leading cause of all burn injuries.

The variance between a scald being a minor burn or being deadly is determined by several factors:

  • Sustained exposure to the hot substance.
  • Substance temperature.
  • Nature of the substance, is it sticky? Does it retain heat?
  • The extent of body area scalded.
  • Scald location.

Scalding can occur very quickly. Doctors from the Shriners Hospital stated “People of all ages can be burned in 30 seconds by flowing liquid that is 130 degrees Fahrenheit. At 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it takes only five seconds and at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, it only takes one second.”

Typically, people of all ages can be scalded, but there are three age groups that are most likely to experience a scald: young children, the elderly, and those with disabilities and special needs.

These three groups may not be able to communicate or comprehend that the bath water or drink is extremely hot. And mobility issues may hinder them to be able to remove themselves from the danger associated with scalding.

Typically, young children and the elderly may have thinner skin than the average adult or teen. The thinner the skin the faster the skin will be vulnerable to scalding.

Burn and scalding safety

  • Teach children that hot things can burn. Install anti-scald devices on tub faucets and shower heads.
  • Always supervise a child in or near a bathtub.
  • Test the water at the faucet. It should be less than 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius).
  • Before placing a child in the bath or getting in the bath yourself, test the water.
  • Test the water by moving your hand, wrist and forearm through the water. The water should feel warm, not hot, to the touch.
  • Place hot liquids and food in the center of a table or toward the back of a counter.
  • Have a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.
  • Open microwaved food slowly, away from the face.
  • Never hold a child while you are cooking, drinking a hot liquid, or carrying hot foods or liquids.
  • Never heat a baby bottle in a microwave oven. Heat baby bottles in warm water from the faucet.
  • Allow microwaved food to cool before eating.
  • Choose prepackaged soups whose containers have a wide base or, to avoid the possibility of a spill, pour the soup into a traditional bowl after heating.
  • Treat a burn right away. Cool the burn with cool water for 3–5 minutes. Cover with a clean, dry cloth.
  • Get medical help if needed.

For more information about burn awareness and safety please visit the National Fire Prevention Association website at, the National Scald Prevention Steering Committee website at http://www/, the American Burn Association at or contact our fire prevention offices at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston at 210-221-2727, at JBSA-Lackland at 210-671-2921, or at JBSA-Randolph at 210-652-6915.