Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review Lesson of the week

Burns caused by steam inhalation for respiratory tract infections in children

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 25 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:757
  1. Siun M Murphy, senior house officer in plastic surgery (,
  2. Dylan Murray, specialist registrar in plastic surgery1,
  3. Susan Smith, general practitioner2,
  4. Orr J A David, consultant plastic surgeon11
  1. 1Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, Dublin 12, Republic of Ireland
  2. 2Department of Community Health and General Practice, Trinity College, Dublin 2
  1. Correspondence to: S M Murphy
  • Accepted 5 August 2003


Steam inhalation is a common home remedy for infections of the upper respiratory tract. Between 1 July and 31 December 2002 seven children were admitted to the burns unit of a children's hospital in Dublin with scalds sustained during the course of such treatment.


We saw seven children over six months who had sustained scalds directly associated with steam inhalation. The children ranged in age from nine months to 10 years. The scalding ranged in extent from 3% to 6% of the total body surface area. Six children sustained burns to the face after direct contact with steam or hot water. Two children had burns caused by the bowl of water spilling on to their chest or lap. Four children will have permanent scarring, although only one required a skin graft. All …

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