How to Treat a Steam Burn
A steam burn is a thermal burn typically caused by water vapor released from hot water. Steam burns are scalds and are caused by liquids. 1 Learn more about steam burn treatment below, and do not forget to reach out to a doctor who can evaluate your injury thoroughly.
How severe are steam burns?
Steam burns are classified the same as other burns. They are typically divided into first, second, and third-degree burns.2 First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin. Second-degree burns affect both the outer and underlying layer of skin, while third-degree burns affect the deep layers of skin. You can have more than one type of burn at a time.2
Some of the signs of a first-degree steam burns include: 2
- Mild redness around the burn site
- Mild pain and discomfort
- Some swelling of the area is possible
- The skin may start to peel as the burn heals
A second-degree burn is more serious because the injury extends through the top layer of the skin to the underlying layer.2 Some of the most common signs of a second-degree burn include: 2
- Pain and swelling
- Redness around the burnt area
- Blistering around the burn area
Third-degree burns are the most serious. Generally, a third-degree burn will be surrounded by other areas that include second and first-degree burn locations.2 Some of the most common symptoms include: 2,3
- White or blackened, burnt skin
- The Skin with a leathery texture
- Numbness due to damaged nerves
Severe burns always need to be evaluated by a trained medical professional.
There are several ways steam burns can occur. Some of the most common causes include:
- From ironing your clothes.1
- Using pressure cookers from which hot steam is released when opened 1
- Boiling water in a pot or pan.1
- From car radiators when the hood of the car is opened after running for a while. 1
There are also several ways that steam burns can develop in children. They include:
- While making a hot drink, such as hot chocolate, tea, or coffee.1
- Handling hot food like soup, 1
- Steam from bath water that is too hot.1
Use caution to reduce the chances of suffering a steam burn.
Signs of a Steam Burn
Just like other burns, there are several common signs of a steam burn. Some of the most common signs include:
- Redness around the side of the burn injuries.4
- Swelling at the sight of the burn following injury.4
- Pain and discomfort around the injury site, particularly when the area is moved.4
- Blisters may start to develop. The blisters can vary significantly in size.4
- Skin that shows signs of sloughing in the affected area.4
- Fluid weeping from the site of the injury.4
Keep in mind that these symptoms can vary significantly depending on the severity of the injury.
Can steam burns become infected?
Yes, it is possible for a steam burn to become infected. Just like cuts and scrapes, an infection can develop if the surface of the skin is disrupted.5 Your skin plays an important role in defending against potential bacterial and viral infections.5 If the surface of the skin is broken, bacteria and viruses can infiltrate the wound because the skin is gone.5
With a steam burn, the skin might be damaged, creating a portal of entry for bacteria. .5 For example, if there is a blister that ruptures, bacteria could enter the wound through the blister and may lead to a serious infection.6
There are several common signs and symptoms that could indicate that the burn has become infected. Some of the most common signs include:
- Redness and swelling around the site of the injury.7
- Discolored pus coming from the wound itself.7
- The sight of injury may feel warmer than surrounding areas.7
If the wound looks like it may be infected, it is important to reach out to a doctor for help.
How to treat steam burns
It is important to treat steam burns as quickly as possible to limit potential complications. Some of the steps you need to take to treat the burn include:
- Cool the burn down with cool water. Do not use ice water, as it could make the burn injury worse. You should leave the burn under cool water until the discomfort starts to fade. It could take approximately 20 minutes or longer.8
- After the burn has cooled down, you should apply an antibiotic cream or ointment which may help reduce the chances of an infection. 8 A few examples of antibiotic creams and ointments which may help provide infection protect and faster healing include Polysporin® Complete Antibiotic Ointment or Polysporin® Plus Pain Relief Cream. 9
- You should also cover the burn with a clean bandage. You may need to tape the bandage in place.8
If you believe the burn is a second-degree or third-degree burn, consider reaching out to a doctor.
Home Remedies for Steam Burns
If you are curious about a home remedy for steam burns, there are a few options to consider in addition to using Polysporin®.9 Some other options include:
- Consider using a cold compress to ease the discomfort. Do not place an ice pack directly on the skin, as you might damage the skin.10
- Aloe vera has also been an effective treatment option for minor burns, including steam burns.10
- You should also consider applying honey to the site of the minor burn injury, as it can reduce inflammation and speed healing.11
There are some remedies you should avoid, such as butter and oils. They can interfere with the healing process.12
Finally, try to avoid popping blisters. Even though it can be tempting to do so, popping blisters can increase the chances of someone developing an infection.6 They can also lead to scarring, which can interfere with the healing process.6
When to see a doctor
If you believe the burn injury is a second or third-degree burn, you should reach out to a doctor for professional care. Or, if you feel like the wound is getting infected, you need to see a doctor to discuss treatment options. Some of the symptoms you might notice include fever, swelling, redness, pain, and discolored fluid coming from the site of the wound.7 With prompt, effective care, you can reduce the chances of an infection developing.