Hair straighteners and mugs top child burns list

Child burns A young child's skin is thinner than an adult's, making it more susceptible to scalds and burns

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Hair straighteners and hot mugs are the leading causes of childhood scalds and burns, and one-year-olds are at greatest risk, data reveals.

Researchers looked at admissions to three leading burns units as well as five emergency departments in the UK.

The commonest injury was from toddlers reaching up for a steaming cup.

Parents appear unprepared and underestimate how mobile and far youngsters can reach, say the authors in Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

Nearly three-quarters of the 1,215 children treated in a two-year period were under the age of five, with most burn and scald injuries occurring in one-year-olds.

Thermogram of a cup Any hot drink can scald a baby even 15 minutes after it's been made.

All scald injuries - 709 in total - had occurred in the home. Hot drinks accounted for more than half of these and in half of cases the child had tipped boiling drink down their front after pulling down the cup or mug from a table or counter top.

Contact burns in the under-fives were mostly caused by items, such as irons and hair straighteners, that had been left within a child's reach. Some were caused by oven hobs, and a few were from hot baths.

Home hazards

  • Any hot drink can scald a baby even 15 minutes after it has been made
  • Hair straighteners can get as hot as an iron. A child can be burned if they touch them - even if they've been unplugged for eight minutes
  • Hobs and hotplates can all stay hot even after they've been turned off, and oven doors can be very hot when the oven is on

The study authors, Prof Alison Mary Kemp, from Cardiff University, and colleagues, say parents need to be more attuned to the risks posed to adventurous toddlers by everyday objects in the home.

They said: "The peak prevalence in infants started at nine months of age, when independent mobility begins, infants are exploring their environment without the awareness of dangers.

"Parents appear to be unready for this developmental stage in terms of preventative strategies. They may underestimate the potential reach height of their toddler."

The average height of one-year-olds is about 75cm (2ft 6in), which is about the same height as a dining table, and kitchen work surfaces or cooker hobs will still be in arm's reach.

The prevalence of burns and scalds falls dramatically at three years of age, which the researchers say may coincide with an increased cognitive awareness of the dangers of heat, a more vigilant approach by parents or a greater proportion of time spent outside the home.

Katrina Philips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said: "This research bears out the sad truth that burns are all too common in under-fives, with injuries peaking in one-year-old babies. Babies develop as such a rapid pace - suddenly they can grab, pull themselves up, crawl and reach things that parents thought were out of reach. This makes them very vulnerable to burns.

"Getting into habits early on, like always putting your hair straighteners on a high shelf or in a heat-proof pouch to cool, always putting hot drinks far out of reach, keeping children out of the kitchen when you're cooking, etc. all help to greatly reduce the risk of them suffering the pain of serious burns."

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