Steam inhalation has been practiced as a home remedy for common colds as well as upper respiratory tract infections. During this pandemic situation, this misconception that the practice can help manage COVID-19 has led to a surge in the number of scald injuries in pediatric patients, according to a new study.

There is no evidence to support the use of steam inhalation to manage upper respiratory tract infections. Several unproven theories point out that the steam loosens mucus, opens nasal passages, and reduces the inflammation in the mucosal membranes. Some also believe that heat can inhibit the replications of viruses.

Scald injuries are the most commonly reported cause of burns among children. Around 110 children visit the emergency department every day with burn injuries in the U.K. But after the lockdown measures were implemented in the previous month, the Burns Centre at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, U.K., reported a 30-fold increase in the number of scald injuries due to steam inhalation alone.

Key findings of the study:

  • Most frequently, the burn injuries are due to accidental spillage of boiling water
  • More than occasionally, children have been left unsupervised around bowls or kettles containing boiling hot water
  • There were just a couple of patients per year with scald injuries associated with steam inhalation. But in the past month alone, there were more than 6 kids admitted with burn injuries due to steam inhalation
  • The youngest child who suffered a burn injury was just 2 weeks old
  • The most severe case of scald injury due to stem inhalation involved about 8% of the child’s total body surface area and required skin grafting and excision procedures
  • 50% of centers in England have had an increase in scalds associated with steam inhalation and this correlated with the regions with a higher prevalence of COVID-19
  • Two-thirds of the reported cases were associated with Asian ethnicity

The common misconception

Steam inhalation has been considered beneficial in preventing as well as managing respiratory tract infections. Moreover, social media posts and home-made tutorials from unverified sources play an important role in misleading parents into practicing this dangerous habit that can cause injuries in children.

Although 80% of general practitioners have recommended steam inhalation therapies, several studies revealed that there is no additional symptomatic relief from using steam inhalation therapy in treating the common cold.

“Steam inhalation is a hazard to children. Resulting scalds can ultimately lead to hospital admission, surgery, and life-long disfigurement. Parental education is paramount to preventing these injuries. Clinicians should actively discourage steam inhalation and educate parents about alternative treatments for their child,” concluded the researchers in their paper published in the Lancet.

Scald injuries in children Muscat_Coach, Pixabay