Much like any hot substance, steam is capable of causing a painful burn. For the most part, burns from steam come from boiling water. Minor steam burns can happen in any kitchen, but a steam burn can also be severe. When a person is burned by steam, the skin will not char like it does when burned by a flame; however, redness and blisters will appear.
A third degree steam burn will penetrate deep into the skin and will still be white, heavily blistered, and numb. While steam can do significant damage to skin, the bigger concern is when steam is inhaled. It can burn the airways. In fact, inhaling steam can cause serious damage to the bronchial tubes and can lead to death if the situation is severe enough.
Steam that rises from boiling water has a temperature of more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Pure steam is an invisible vapor. The small drops of condensed water that hover over hot pans can still cause a severe burn even though they are technically not steam. True steam is exceptionally dangerous, as it is invisible. This leads to the possibility that a person could not be aware that they are in danger until the burn has already happened.
Steam burns, like all burns, can range from mild to severe. It is important to assess the severity of the burn before taking the next step in seeking treatment. A superficial steam burn can be treated by keeping it clean and treating with a cooling lotion, much like a sunburn. More serious burns require special attention. Be sure to check a serious steam burn victim’s ABCs:
When treating a steam burn, particularly a severe one, do not use water or ointments to cool the area. This has the potential to send the victim into shock. Also try to avoid pulling away clothing in the area of the burn, as it could be stuck to the skin and cause pain. Cover any burn with a dry, sterile, nonstick bandage until emergency services arrive.