Microwaves a Menace for Young Kids

Scalds, resulting in serious injuries, can occur, study finds

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HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 7, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Every year, young children suffer burns when they remove hot liquids from microwave ovens, a new study finds.

Children as young as 18 months can open a microwave, remove the hot substance, and scald themselves. These burns can result in serious injuries that often required skin grafting and intensive care.

"Scalds are the leading cause of burn-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations for young children under 5," said lead researcher Dr. Gina Lowell, with the department of pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Most of the scalds suffered by young children that require hospitalization are caused by hot foods or drinks, according to the findings, published in the October issue of Pediatrics.

"Parents need to recognize that children can burn themselves this way," Lowell said. "The microwave is a danger area."

Parents should tell their toddlers that when the bell on the microwave rings: "Mommy or daddy gets it first," Lowell said. "It's inappropriate for any child under 5 to be pulling anything out of the microwave."

For the study, Lowell's team looked at the medical records of children under 5 who were admitted to the University of Chicago burn center between January 2002 and December 2004. One hundred forty had scald burns, with 94 caused by hot foods or liquids.

Nine children between 18 months and 4 years old were scalded after opening a microwave oven and removing a hot substance. And 17 were burned when an older child, between the ages 7 and 14, was cooking, carrying a hot liquid, or supervising a younger child, according to the study.

To prevent these injuries, Lowell's group thinks that microwaves should be redesigned to prevent young children from opening them. The child lock mechanisms currently on microwaves prevent children from operating the machines, but don't prevent children from opening them after foods have been heated, she noted.

And scald prevention programs should educate parents, caregivers and older children about the danger of hot foods and drinks causing serious burn injuries to young children, she said.

When a scald occurs, parents should immediately run cold water over the burn for at least five to 10 minutes, Lowell advised. "If they feel the burn is serious, then they should take their child to the emergency room," she said.

Dr. Karen Sheehan, medical director of Injury Prevention and Research at Children's Memorial Hospital, and medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Chicago, believes parents need to be better educated about the dangers of microwave ovens.

"Microwaves are often thought by parents to be safer to use than stoves," Sheehan said. "But this article demonstrates that microwave use can cause severe scald burns to children. It is critical that health-care providers provide counseling to parents about the potential burn hazard from using microwaves."

Dr. James G. Linakis, associate director of pediatric emergency medicine at Hasbro Children's Hospital/Rhode Island Hospital, said the findings are consistent with his own experience.

"The majority of children we see in the emergency department with unintentional scalds are toddlers who have pulled down hot liquids from the stove or microwave onto themselves, and children who have been scalded by a hot liquid unintentionally spilled by an older child or adult," he said. "These burns are extremely painful, and in some cases leave children with significant scarring. Efforts to prevent these causes of scald burns have the potential to make a significant impact on this type of injury."

More information

For more on children's safety, visit the Safe Kids.

SOURCES: Gina Lowell, M.D., department of pediatrics, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Karen Sheehan, M.D., medical director, Injury Prevention and Research, Children's Memorial Hospital, and medical director, Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Chicago, Chicago; James G. Linakis, M.D., Ph.D., associate director, pediatric emergency medicine, Hasbro Children's Hospital/Rhode Island Hospital, Providence; October 2008 Pediatrics

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