Steam inhalation and paediatric burns

Steam inhalation, a common home remedy for colds, congestion, and respiratory infections has now become a daily practice in homes in an effort to keep COVID and respiratory ailments at bay. However if not done correctly for children it can cause burns and scalding. NT KURIOCITY finds out more


Fluctuating temperatures due to heavy rains and the fear of being infected with the COVID-19 virus has led parents to encourage young children to do steam inhalation. However, children, being hyperactive are prone to accidents in such cases.

“In my practice the incidents of children with burn injuries due to hot water resulting from attempts to do steaming has increased to fourfold. We have eight to 10 cases per month involving children, mostly from spillage of hot water during steam inhalation,” says consultant paediatric surgeon, Healthway Hospitals, Vishal Sawant.

In fact, consultant paediatrician at Healthway Hospitals, Sumant Prabhudesai believes that children below ten years of age should avoid doing steam inhalation as a preventive measure to respiratory ailments. “The risks and injuries linked to burns, wounds or scalds are far greater than the potential benefits of inhaling steam,” he says, adding that only children with symptoms such as nose block, runny nose or those having allergies can do steam inhalation if needed or advised by a paediatrician and while taking the necessary safety precautions.

A child’s skin being far more delicate and sensitive can have more severe impact in case of burns. “If there is more than 10 per cent burn or if there is an involvement of sensitive areas like the face, hands, feet, or the genitalia, the child must be immediately taken to the nearest doctor,” advises Sawant. “The child may need to be admitted due to fluid loss, severe degree burns or to prevent secondary infection as these conditions require constant clinical observation and aggressive management.”

In case of an incident of scalding, Sawant advises that first, the child should be taken away from the source of the burn immediately. Plain, room temperature water should be poured on the affected areas. “Application of substances such as toothpaste, grease, cosmetic and medicated creams are not advisable especially in case of blisters or loss of skin as this may interfere with wound healing. Also the attempt of cleaning the area will be painful to the child,” he says.

If the pain to the child is severe, Sawant recommends Paracetamol syrup as a pain reliever which can ease the pain of the child until he or she can be examined by a medical professional. “Blisters are a natural response to heat or hot liquid spillage. Scalds usually heal well without leaving any scarring or bruises in children,” he says.

Paediatric burns due to steam inhalation are also often due to incorrect practices. Thus, explaining the manner in which steam inhalation is to be conducted, Sawant says that the steamer should be placed close to the child at a height which is convenient. He also recommends use of commercial electric steamers for children as there is less amount of water involved. This in turn can reduce the risk of spillage, making it more convenient for a child to use.

The best way to avoid burn incidents in children however, is by supervising them closely during steam inhalation as children tend to move and want to play around even if they have been instructed not to.

To do or not to do?

► Steam inhalation is not recommended for children below the age of 10 years.

► It is usually not advised as a preventive measure. This is because the risks associated with inhalation for children are far greater than the potential benefits.

► Conduct steam inhalation only if advised by a doctor. This may be advised if a child has a cold or allergies.

► Plain water inhalation is recommended.

Immediate action to be taken in case of burns

► Take the child away from the source of the burn.

► Pour room temperature water on the affected areas.

► Do not apply substances like toothpaste or creams on the skin especially in case of blisters or loss of skin.

► Do not attempt to clean the wound.

► Paracetamol syrup may be given to the child to relieve pain.

► If there is more than 10 per cent burn or involvement of face, hand, feet, and genitalia, visit the doctor immediately.

How to stay safe

► Adults should supervise the child during steam inhalation.

► A commercial electric steamer is recommended as it reduces chances of spillage.

► Place the steamer close to the child at a height which is convenient to the child. Ask the child to inhale the steam by looking over the steamer.

► Ensure the child stays eight to 12 inches away from the hot water or steamer.

► If using hot water, place the bowl on a level, sturdy surface so that it can’t be knocked over.

► Ask the child to close their eyes when facing the steam.

► Don’t steam longer than 10 to 15 minutes for each session.