Microwaves pose burn injury risk to small children

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Microwave ovens pose a serious safety hazard to young children, a new study of scald burn injuries demonstrates.

Hot foods or liquids from microwave ovens were the fourth leading cause of scald injuries in children under 5 years old, a review of records from the University of Chicago Burn Center shows.

“Parents do need to teach their toddlers and their older children that the microwave is a potential source of danger as much as the stove is,” Dr. Gina Lowell of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the researchers on the study, told Reuters Health.

She and her colleagues call for manufacturers to install mechanisms to prevent children from opening a microwave after something has been heated to prevent these injuries.

To date, Lowell and her team report in the journal Pediatrics, scald injury prevention efforts have focused on having parents turn down their water heaters so water temperature never exceeds 120 degrees. But tap-water scalds represent just a fraction of scald injuries overall, which remain the leading cause of burn-related ER visits and hospitalizations in young children.

To look for patterns of other types of scald injuries in young children and identify ways to prevent them, Lowell and her colleagues reviewed the records of 140 children younger than 5 years old who were admitted to the University of Chicago Burn Center.

Among the 104 scald injuries that were not from tap water, 90.4 percent were from hot foods or liquids. Seventeen injuries, or 16.3 percent, occurred when an older child was cooking, carrying the hot substance or supervising the injured child. Nine injuries, or 8.7 percent, were to children who had opened the microwave themselves and removed the substance inside; the youngest child injured in this way was 18 months old.

It can be difficult to keep young children away from kitchen hazards, especially if an adult is alone at home and trying to cook dinner, Lowell said. Parents should keep a child well away from the stove if the child must be in the kitchen while food preparation is underway, she added, for example by putting younger children in a high chair or setting up a safe play area.

“Most parents feel like they’ve got it covered...and yet we see all of these scald burns that happen to children,” Lowell noted.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, October 2008.