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The Dangers of Steam Inhalation: Burns in Children

Lead Nurse Clare Thomas and Dr Colin Brewster from the Paediatric Burns Service at Birmingham Children’s Hospital have shared the below information with us (the image has kindly been provided by the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons. 

Steam inhalation is often used as a home remedy for nasal congestion. There have been inaccurate reports that steam inhalation can prevent COVID-19 – this is not true.

At Birmingham Children’s Hospital Burns Centre, we have recently seen a 30-fold increase in children with scald burns who have been using steam inhalation to prevent coronavirus or to relieve nasal congestion.  Our Paediatric Burns Centre normally admits 2 or 3 patients with scald secondary to steam inhalation every year, but at the current rate we could admit up to 70 patients.  Patients have ranged from newborn babies up to teenagers, and in some cases burns required surgery for skin grafting.

“These are truly unprecedented times for our colleagues across the NHS.  We would like to reassure families, and the general public, that all burns services are continuing to see and assess patients with burns, and to deliver urgent burns care. All services have introduced precautions to separate COVID and non-COVID patients to minimise the risk of cross infection, as per NHS guidance.”

“Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, my colleagues and I urge parents to still seek professional help with any burn injury. Burn injuries are incredibly serious, and children must be seen by medical professionals to ensure their injury is treated correctly. The right treatment is essential for the best possible outcome and recovery.” Miss Isabel Jones, Consultant Burns & Plastic Surgeon, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital

Other Burns services in the country have also reported to have observed an increase in scalds relating to steam inhalation, especially in those areas where Covid -19 is more prevalent.

Studies have shown that there is no additional symptomatic relief from the use of steam inhalation to treat the common cold.  There is no evidence that it prevents COVID infection.

Steam inhalation is a hazard to children. Resulting scalds can ultimately lead to hospital admission, surgery, life-long disfigurement and psychological harm. Clinicians should actively discourage steam inhalation and educate parents of alternate treatments for their child. We would strongly recommend parents and children refrain from steam inhalation to prevent these debilitating injuries.

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