Published: 23 January 2014 at 13:18
Steam inhalation products to blame for burns injuries – Anglia Ruskin experts
Using steam inhalation products to cure a winter cold can do more harm than good, according to doctors at one of the UK’s leading burns centres.
The St Andrew’s Anglia Ruskin (StAAR) Research Unit – a partnership between Anglia Ruskin University and the St Andrew’s Centre for Plastic Surgery and Burns based at Mid Essex Hospitals Trust – carried out a review of burns patients over a 10-year period and discovered that steam inhalation was to blame for a number of injuries, most commonly burnt laps amongst men.
Steam inhalation using a decongestant is commonly used as a home remedy for upper respiratory tract infections and can also be used cosmetically to open pores. The researchers looked at the reasons for steam inhalation use, the mechanism of injury, who recommended its use, any additives to the steam, the patient’s age, depth and scale of burn, and length of hospital stay.
Many of the patients had balanced bowls of water on their laps while sitting on an uneven surface, such as a sofa, rather than leaning over a bowl placed on a hard surface. The lap was typically the area resulting in the most severe burns, with more superficial burns caused by ‘run off’ of boiling water as the patient stood up.
Accidents were also caused by “tenting”, which involves extending a towel over the head and under the bowl of water placed on the lap. Any sudden movements to the head can then cause the bowl to tip. Other common injuries included facial burns caused by the face coming into contact with the water or as a result of splashes of boiling water.
The researchers found that inhalation was being used to treat colds in 93% of the cases, while in 7% of cases it was being used for cosmetic reasons. Advice from family members and GPs was the most common reason for choosing inhalation as a remedy. The average age of a burns patient was 20, and the worst case involved a 14-day stay in hospital.
The frequency of these injuries is also increasing. Between 2005-2009, St Andrew’s Centre for Plastic Surgery and Burns treated nine patients for steam inhalation injuries, but since 2010 52 patients have been admitted.
Quentin Frew, Visiting Clinical Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University, said: