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Call to stop recommending steam inhalation for child colds

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Practice nurses and GPs should no longer recommend steam inhalation as a remedy for children with colds, because of the risk of burns, according to a UK study.

Steam inhalation has long been considered a beneficial home remedy to treat children with viral respiratory tract infections, but there is no evidence to suggest a benefit, said researchers in the British Journal of General Practice.

“This dangerous practice should no longer be recommended”

Study authors

They looked back at records of children admitted to the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in Swansea between January 2010 and February 2015, and surveyed local GPs on their practice.

They found 16 children attended the burns centre with steam inhalation scalds. The average age attending was 7.4 years and, on average, three children per year were admitted.

The average size of the burns was 3.1% of total body area. One child was managed surgically and the remainder were treated with dressings, although one required a stay in a high-dependency unit.

Patients had mostly used bowls with hot water at home, though two had used commercially available steam inhalers.

The most common sites affected by burns were the thigh or leg and the groin, due to the child having spilled hot water on their lap or kicked over the bowl.

Overall, 17 out of 21 GPs who responded to the survey recommended steam inhalation to their patients and eight recommended it for children aged under five years.

The researchers said: “This study confirms that, despite the considerable risk of paediatric scalds with steam inhalation, as highlighted in previous articles, this practice continues to be advocated in primary care.

“Children, due to their limited motor skills, curiosity, and poor awareness of danger, are at significant risk of burn injuries and this dangerous practice should no longer be recommended,” they stated.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Pussy

    I'm surprised this still goes on! Apart from the dangers it doesn't work on any way.

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