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  • A Little Supervision Can Prevent Burn Injuries among Children during Steam Inhalation

    Published on July 29, 2021

    By Dr Gururaj Biradar, Consultant – Pediatrics, PICU, and Neonatology, Manipal Hospitals, Whitefield

    The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic spread a lot of paranoia with it! As the world around started to shut down, misinformation soon took the form of rumors that spread like wildfire. While medical science did its magic in laboratories around the world to create vaccines, many people, especially in India, deferred to home remedies in the fight against the virus while waiting for a cure. 

    In the search for desperate measures, parents had to become proactive in finding remedies to build the immunity of their children against the virus. One such proactive measure for their young children was steam inhalation. Many say, ‘steam inhalation can prevent COVID-19 infection and kill the virus.’ This is a misconception. There is no scientific data or research that show the benefits of steam inhalation in fighting a cold, or the flu or preventing mucus formation or the prevention and killing of the COVID-19 virus.

    This misconception has led to a rise in burn injuries among children. Earlier, there used to be a case or two of burns in children in a month. This number has doubled since the start of the pandemic, and the reason for this is unsupervised steam inhalation!

    Most cases that have come in are among toddlers, between the ages of two and three years who accidentally touch the very hot utensils or steamers. Most of the burns happen on the hands and palms. There have been cases where the boiled water has spilled over their legs as well. There is also the risk of the boiling water splashing over their faces and upper chests. 

    While most of the time these kids are lucky and do not need major medical intervention, in some cases, the burn injury goes up to 15 percent to 18 percent and this needs immediate medical attention. Most of the time, children are admitted to the hospital with burn injuries to their extremities. 

    There is no real benefit of taking steam inhalation for cough and cold. However, in cases where parents want their children to take it, it is ideal to opt for electric steamers and avoid the traditional methods. Children need supervision during inhalation. Parents need to make sure they do not come in contact with the steamer, and sit at least 10 inches away from the steamer. For additional protection, they can use thick towels to cover the thighs and legs. 

    Despite all this, if spillage happens, parents should not panic. The first step should be to apply cold water over the affected area of the body, provided the burn is not extreme. The area needs to be covered with a clean piece of cotton, and then the child should be taken to hospital for doctors to examine and treat the burn based on the degree of injury.

    Parents need to understand that steam inhalation will cause more harm than good to their children. While there might be some initial symptomatic relief, it is only with time that children will recover from a cold, cough, or blocked nose. Steam inhalation has shown no benefits in clinical trials, can cause serious burn injuries to children, hence advised to avoid using it.