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The City of Portland, Oregon

Fire & Rescue

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Phone: 503-823-3700

Fax: 503-823-3710

55 SW Ash Street, Portland, OR 97204

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Burn Awareness Week: What Causes Burns?


Burn Awareness Week |  CAUSES OF BURNS

Burns are caused by a wide variety of substances and external sources such as exposure to chemicals, friction, electricity, radiation, and heat.  

Tap-Water Scalds

Scalds result when one or more layers of skin are destroyed due to contact with hot liquid or steam. Tap-water scalds are preventable and unfortunately very common among young children, older adults, and people with disabilities. The depth of injury depends on the temperature to which the skin is exposed and the length of time the skin is exposed to the burning substance.

Children are most often scalded by tap water when they:

  • Are left unattended in the bathroom
  • Are placed in water that is too hot
  • Are bathed by an inexperienced caregiver (babysitter or older sibling);
  • Are in the tub when another child turns on the hot water
  • Fall into the tub.

Older adults and people with disabilities are most often scalded by tap water when they:

  • Slip or fall in the tub or shower
  • A caregiver fails to recognize that the water is too hot
  • Water temperature fluctuates due to running water in other parts of the home
  • A faucet or plumbing fixture malfunctions and the person is unable to escape a sudden burst of scalding water.

Food and Beverage Scalds

Scalds from cooking, hot foot, and beverages are common across the board but can be serious for young children, older adults, and people with disabilities. These burns often cover a smaller surface area than tap water scalds; however, they are often deeper because of the higher temperature, and therefore more likely to need surgical skin grafting.

Children may get burned when they:

  • Upset hot beverages
  • Grab dangling appliance cords or pot handles
  • Pull on hanging tablecloths

Adults can receive cooking-related scalds from hot liquid spills and hot oil spatters while deep-frying as well as microwave spills, splashes, and the release of steam. Injuries such as these can occur in kitchens and dining areas of the home.

Fire Burns

Burns can be sustained from contact with flames or hot objects, or through the inhalation of super-heated gases that can damage tissues in the airways and lungs. Flame burns can be caused by clothing catching fire from a stove burner, match, candle, or exposure to an open flame. Seniors are a high-risk group for fire injuries due to illnesses and impairments such as blindness, deafness, or dementia that are associated with aging.

Chemical Burns

A chemical burn occurs when living tissue is exposed to a reactive chemical substance such as a strong acid or base. Chemical burns may occur through direct contact on body surfaces including skin and eyes, inhalation, and ingestion. The exact symptoms of a chemical burn depend on the chemical involved, but can include itching, bleaching or darkening of skin, burning sensations, trouble breathing, coughing blood, tissue necrosis, and death. Sparklers and other fireworks that give off sparks or flames can cause chemical burns as well as heat-induced burns. 

Electrical Burns

Electrical burns occur when current jumps from an electrical outlet, cord, or appliance and passes through your body. The electricity can burn the skin and may also cause internal damage. Electrical burns are particularly common among young children, and can be incurred in a number of ways, including sticking a knife into a plugged-in toaster, dropping a plugged-in appliance into water, sucking or chewing on an electrical cord, and sticking a foreign object into an electrical outlet.


Check out the Fire Blog tomorrow and learn how YOU can prevent burns!


February 9, 2010


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