Steam burns are ugly experiences everyone would love to avoid because of the pain and the mental torture associated with them. You may not understand the importance of what we are trying to say here until you are exposed to steam injury or your beautiful skin is destroyed by steam.
Steam burns can potentially damage a high degree of skin, muscles or tissues than you would naturally think is possible. Though they are very painful and have the tendency to leave some scars behind, these injuries are treatable and the scars can be minimized with professional management.
Why do steam burns hurt a lot?
There is a release of heat (in form of energy) when there is condensation of steam to water and then the water is cooled to the skin temperature. Latent heat of vaporization is released in the process which results in more injury or damage to the skin. The level of energy released in the process results in deep penetrating burns which is why steam burns hurt a lot.
Latent heat of vaporization is the amount of heat energy that is needed to change the phase or state of matter from liquid to gaseous state. The liquid absorbs the energy but does not change the temperature. This latent heat is released by the gas when the gas condenses and becomes a liquid before it can cool below its boiling temperature. At sea level, water’s latent heat of vaporization is 2250 J/g. A great deal of that heat is absorbed into your skin if you place your hand into a jet of steam as the heat is being released into the atmosphere. The water still remains at 100⁰C as the steam condenses into your skin, penetrating deep into your tissues and causing damage to the cells. That is why steam burns from kettle can be very painful and sometimes serious.
First Aid for Steam burns
There are some steps you can easily take in order to minimize the damage caused by steam burns, especially before the arrival of a medical doctor or before you are taken to the hospital. Here is the First Aid management for steam burns.
Stop the burning
- Stop the contact with the steam immediately
- Tear or cut around any cloth that is sticking on the skin
Cool the burn
- Place the burned area under a running tap of cool water and allow the water to run for about 10 to 15 minutes. This is to completely cool the temperature and prevent further penetration of the heat
- If there is no running water, use cool compresses to douse the area
- Never cool burns with ice water, as ice itself is capable of causing burns. It can also lower body temperature and cause shock.
- The burn should be covered with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or a clean cloth
- The following should not be applied to the burn – egg, butter, salt, ointments or any other liquids
- Do not attempt to break the blister
- Do not breathe or cough on the burn
- Relieve pain with over-the-counter drugs such as naproxen (Aleve), Ibuprofen (Motrin), or Acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Do not give anything by mouth, especially if there are severe burns and pain
Give emotional support
Calm the patient down and reassure him/her. Let the patient know that you are there to help him/her. This will reduce the level of panic and ensure compliance to treatment.
Consult the doctor
You may need to see the doctor if:
- The pain and redness refuse to stop after several hours
- The pain is getting worse
- You need to take anti-tetanus injection or booster dose
- There are signs of infection such as increased pain, swelling, redness, offensive discharge, fever, etc.
Steam Burns vs Fire Burns
Steam burns are occasionally misunderstood with fire burns or burns resulting from dry heat. As the name implies, steam burns are caused by exposure to steam or boiling water while fire burn comes from dry source of heat. It is usually easier to sustain steam burns on wrist, fingers, face, lips, etc. because these parts are easily exposed to sources of steam.
Steam may sometimes not be hotter than the fire. Nevertheless, when the skin gets in contact with steam, the pain is felt faster than when it is with dry fire. The reason is because when the steam comes in contact with your skin, it tries to transfer its own heat to your skin (the skin being the new source of fuel) and you feel the heat within a matter of few seconds.
The moment the heat is transferred to your skin, the temperature increases momentarily and exceeds that of the hot steam. That’s the reason why you easily feel the heat from a boiling kettle more than that of Bunsen burner or candle.
How to Treat Steam burns
The treatment for steam burns is usually done on a First Aid basis. Other treatments may be carried out in the hospital. Having talked about the first aid management earlier, let’s quickly look at what can be done at the hospital.
Admit the patient if the burns are extensive; otherwise the burns should be treated as an out-patient case.
The patient should be nursed under insect-proof net to prevent flies and other insects from contaminating the surface of the burns (if there are areas with open wounds).
Burns are usually dressed daily using Normal Saline solution to clean the surface before applying layers of sterile dressing. This helps to remove dead cells and exudates from the wound surface. But there are two basic types of wound dressing you can apply to the steam burns
- Low Adherent dressing: These are readily available and are quite cheap. Their main work is to help maintain a moist wound bed while allowing exudates to pass through into a secondary dressing. They come in the form of tulles (cloth that is open weave and soaked in chlorhexidine or soft paraffin), perforated films of plastic, or textiles. They can also be smeared with silver sulfadiazine, nadifloxacin or other materials. They are used to cover the wound to prevent infection and aid quick granulation/healing.
- Semi-permeable Films: They are made of plastic sheets of polyurethane that are sterile and coated with hypoallergenic acrylic adhesive. They are most of the times used as transparent cover for wounds. They do not allow the passage of fluid and bacteria but allow free circulation of air into the burns. Some of the types of semi-permeable films you can use for daily dressing of steam burns include Hydrogels, Hydrocolloids and Alginates.
- You can also apply biological dressing like collagen dressing, which is quite safe, aids granulation faster, is hypoallergenic, and non-pyrogenic. They come in the form of powder or gel.
- Broad spectrum antibiotics injection or capsules can be administered to prevent infection of the burns.
- Anti-tetanus serum or tetanus toxoid should be administered to prevent infection by tetanus bacterium
Control of pain
Control pain with over-the-counter drugs such as Indomethacin, Ibuprofen, paracetamol, Diclofenac, Piroxicam, etc.
How to Heal steam burns quickly
Your steam burns will heal quickly if you do the following:
- Prevent infection from setting in: You can do this by protecting the wound with a dressing. Antibiotics prophylaxis also helps in preventing infection. When there is no infection, wounds heal faster
- Avoid further injury: You must not injure the wound further. Avoid scratching its surface or hitting the burn on hard surfaces
- Stick to wound dressing as advised: Do not break the blister if there is any. This will help prevent the wound from being exposed to microbes
- Eat balanced diets: this will improve your body’s ability to generate granulation tissues to heal the burn quickly.
- Take a lot of Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid is also known as the healing vitamin because of its ability to heal wounds. Take enough of it daily. At least 300mg daily should really help out.
There are a lot of things you can actually do at home to help take care of your steam burns, reduce the pain associated with it and aid healing. Some of them include:
- Honey: Honey is known to aid wound healing faster than a lot of the orthodox medications out there. Some health surveys have shown that honey takes an average of 18 – 16 days to heal burns compared to Silver Sulfadiazine which takes about 32 – 68 days.
- Clean the wound surface of the burns with normal solution or sterile water and apply honey. Do this daily and watch your wound heal fast. However, it must first be established that the wound is not infected and that the patient is not diabetic. This is to prevent bacteria from thriving on the honey to cause more problems.
- Egg white: They help in controlling the pain that is associated with burns. Apply the egg white to the surface of the burns (without an open wound) and allow it to stay as long as it can. When it dries up, pain is likely to return. In that case, reapply the egg white again to keep the burn area cool.
- Whole milk: Soak a piece of clean non-fluffy cloth or gauze in cool, whole milk and apply it gently over the burn for about 10 to 15 minutes. Apply fresh one as the milk warms up on the wound.
- Vinegar: Diluted vinegar is equally helpful in handling steam burns at home. It helps to relieve pain and relax the tissues. Soak a cloth in vinegar that has been diluted with cool water and apply it to the burn area. Repeat when necessary.
- Onion juice: This has been in use by chefs for centuries for the home treatment of burns. Cut a fresh onion in half, squeeze out the juice and apply it to the burns to minimize pain and reduce blister formation. Freshly cut onions have better soothing properties.
- Cool water: Have you suffered steam burns from kettle or your cooking pot? Consider using cool water to reduce the burning effect of the steam and prevent further damage to skin and underlying tissues. Put the part under running water and allow it to stay up to 10 to 15 minutes to cool the part.
- Aloe Vera: This soothing plant also aids burn healing. For first-degree burns, apply the fresh Aloe Vera or Aloe Vera gel to the area immediately after cooling with water or treating with vinegar. But for second-degree burns, you need to wait for the wound to start healing before applying Aloe Vera or Aloe Vera gel. It will help in reducing pain and aid healing of the tissues. Before using Aloe Vera, be sure you are not on blood thinners and that you have no heart problems.
- Lavender essential Oil: Applying lavender essential oil to the skin immediately after the burns also helps in minimizing the pain, promoting healing and reducing scar formation. You can pour the lavender on a piece of cloth and apply to the skin if the surface involved is big.
Does steam burns leave scar?
Steam burns usually leave some level of scar. But this is highly dependent on the extent of the injury caused by the steam. In cases of first-degree burns without major blisters, the wound will heal without any scar.
If there is an open wound with tissue damage, the possibility of forming a scar is high. Second-degree burns will most likely leave a scar behind. For example, if you had steam burns from kettle that you placed your arm too close to the spout, the burn is going to be much. This would leave a scar. But if it is something you moved your arm across but over a longer distance, the scar may not form.
Steam burns on wrist, fingers, face, lips or any other part of the body can be quite painful and distressing. But with the remedies we have listed in this post, you have several options to help take care of your steam burns.
If you try out our suggestions and they fail to work for you, then you need to see the doctor, especially if there are signs that the burns might be infected. The home remedies are quite helpful and need to try them too.