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How do I Treat Hot Water Burns?

By Phil Shepley
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hot water burns require immediate treatment, no matter how bad they are, and more severe ones will need professional attention. Minor water burns need to be treated with cold running water, or a cold towel or compress. More severe burns will need immediate medical attention, via a call to 911 or another local emergency number, or a trip to the emergency room. It is important to keep the area of a burn dry, and to not apply any ointments or to burst any blisters that may have appeared. The victim of any burn should be closely monitored, and not be given food or water until the wound has been attended to.

Hot water burns are very common, since many people use hot water every day. It is very important to know how to treat any degree of burn, and to know when to call an emergency service for immediate help. There are first, second, and third degree burns, and each one requires a different level of attention. All cases require fast treatment, and the ability to quickly diagnose their symptoms.

First degree hot water burns are those that affect the top layer, or epidermis, of the skin. Exposure to water above a temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) can result in redness, soreness, and sensitivity of the skin. Immediate professional treatment should be sought if the burn covers a large area of the body, or if it has occurred on the feet, hands, or face of the victim.

Immediate treatment of first degree burns should be to run cold water, or to hold a cold towel or compress, over the affected area for ten minutes. It is important not to use ice or ice water, which can cause further damage. These burns will usually heal within a couple of days with no scarring and possibly the peeling of the skin. If the condition worsens over time, however, medical attention should be sought.

Second degree hot water burns will affect the secondary level of the skin, the dermis, as well as the epidermis, creating blisters as well as a darker redness. Scalding hot water will usually be the culprit, and the amount of damage will vary between the temperature and length of exposure. For example, skin under water that is a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) can take several seconds to scald, while the process under water that is 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter is usually instantaneous. Treatment is the same as that of first degree burns, and it is likely that professional help should be sought.

A call to 911 or a local emergency service is a must for third degree hot water burns. Symptoms of these severe burns are nerve damage, and a waxy, white, or charred appearance of the skin. The treatment for first and second-degree burns should be followed, and the victim should be lying down when they are administered. The burn area can be covered with a white, dry cloth, or bandage. Once help arrives, the professionals can take over. These burns will often eventually need complex surgery and much time to heal.

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Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Jan 21, 2014

Cold water is and will always be the best first aid for burns. It has been proven that holding a burn under running cold water immediately actually prevents burns from worsening. When we pour hot water on our skin, our skin tissue actually continues to burn even after the fact. Holding the burn under cold water stops the burning. It also helps reduce pain.

By bluedolphin — On Jan 21, 2014

@fBoyle-- I'm not a doctor and I wouldn't want your condition to worsen because of my advice. Are you sure that it's a first degree burn? I think you should show it to a doctor to make sure that it's not a second degree. If the burn is more serious than you think, you must have it treated at the hospital to avoid infections.

If you are certain that it's a first degree burn, then you can use aloe vera gel with lidocaine on the burn. This is available at the pharmacy. Aloe vera gel is excellent for burns. It will soothe your skin and speed up healing. Lidocaine is a topical pain reliever which is a bonus.

I have used aloe vera gel as first aid for hot water burns for years. It always provides immediate relief and my burns heal fast.

By fBoyle — On Jan 21, 2014

I have a first degree burn from hot water. I've already used a cold compress, it has been a few hours since the incident. But the burning and pain continues. What should I do? Can I apply an ointment? What type of ointment should I use?

By AnswerMan — On Jan 19, 2014
Sometimes it helps to adjust the temperature of your hot water tank to avoid getting bad hot water burns. You really won't notice the difference between 120 degrees and 140 degrees as far as comfort is concerned, but your skin won't be as easily burned. A lot of people keep their hot water tanks set too high because they don't know how to adjust the temperature themselves.

This is really important if you have small children and infants in the house. A baby could receive some serious hot water burns even if the water doesn't feel that hot to an adult. A small child may leave a hot water faucet running and get burned trying to turn it off.

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