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What is a Scald?

Hot liquids can cause scalds.
Scalds that are large or severe should be assessed by a doctor.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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A scald is a burn which is caused by exposure to hot gases or liquids. The leading cause of scalds in most regions is tap water which is too hot, and scalds are also a common result of kitchen accidents. Depending on the severity of a scald, the burn may be quite mild, requiring little to no treatment, or much more severe. Scalds are especially dangerous for children and the elderly.

When someone is burned, he or she experiences tissue damage in the area of the burn. Depending on how deep the burn is, the damage may only be on the surface, or it may be quite deep; bones and internal organs can potentially be injured by burns just as easily as the skin is. As burns heal, they commonly blister, causing them to look rather unsightly, and they may be reddened or irritated for some time, even after most of the healing is over.

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In the case of a scald, the tissue damage is caused by exposure to heat, in contrast with other causes of burns such as caustic chemicals or extreme cold. When someone is scalded, it is very important to stop the burning. Obviously, the first thing to do is remove the source of the scald; commonly the burn victim accomplishes this by jerking away or dropping the object which caused the burn. However, the skin can continue to cook in response to the heat, so the next step is to soak the area in cool water, or run it under a gentle stream of cool water. In addition to stopping the burning, this will also rinse debris out of the wound while the victim is still in shock, making the cleaning less painful.

In the event that a scald is mild, the best thing to do is to leave the burn uncovered and moisturize it periodically with a non-scented, non-greasy moisturizer. Giving the victim extra fluids can help, as well. In a more serious case, as when the skin is actually broken by the injury, or when the scald is close to the bone or an organ, it is a good idea to seek medical attention. A doctor can confirm the extent of the injury, and prescribe additional treatment as necessary, ranging from painkillers to skin grafts.

Most people try to avoid scalds, because they are painful and they can be disfiguring. It is a good idea to turn down hot water heaters to avoid scalding injury; for people who are not comfortable with adjusting their heaters, a plumbing service can perform the adjustment. In kitchens and other environments where hot liquids or gases are present, adequate protection such as long pants should be worn at all times, and people should always use protective coverings for their hands when moving objects which contain hot water or gas.

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