I recently read an article about a woman in Winnipeg scalded by tea at Tim Hortons. Whyhot-coffee would anyone want a drink that hot? Well in fact it’s quite amazing that the common temperatures we enjoy for our beverages are actually hot enough to do severe damage to other parts of the body. The US Based Burn Foundation says that liquid at 69 deg C (156 F) is hot enough to cause a 3rd degree (full thickness) burn in under one second. As I write this article I am sitting here enjoying a Vanilla Latte that I just made. It’s not unusually hot but I did have the machine set to 82 C (180 F) which is a common temperature for a Latte. Despite this high temperature, the beverage is totally comfortable to drink (by the way it’s really good) yet it’s hot enough that if I were to spill it on myself, it could do some serious damage.

A survey of restaurants revealed the following beverage temperatures:

McDonalds 81 to 89 C
Tim Hortons 78 to 86 C
Starbucks 74 to 83 C

Every one of these temperatures is high enough to cause severe burns, but they are typical hot drink temperatures. In fact if you were to be served a beverage at a lower temperature, you would likely complain that it’s too cold. I challenge you to try a coffee at the 69 C mentioned by the Burn Foundation, you would likely say it seems luke warm. The human body is amazing and the tissue and moisture in our mouth and digestive tract enables us to comfortably consume liquids that would cause severe injury to other parts of the body. We just need to be aware of this fact when handling hot beverages and use some common sense in doing so. Buying a hot coffee at Starbucks and then holding it between your knees as you ease out into traffic is probably not the wisest choice to make.

If you do sustain a scald, here are some dos and don’ts:

  • The single most important step is to cool the burn or scald immediately! You want to put it under a cool, running tap for at least 20 minutes. You can also put it in a bowl of water, or use a spray or a sponge. Wet towels don’t work as well, because they warm up when next to your skin. The water you use should be cool, not too cold. Do not use ice which could cause more damage to your skin.
  • If you have burned your arm or leg, keeping it raised will help prevent swelling.
  • Take off any rings, bracelets, or watches near the burnt area. They could get too tight if the area swells up.
  • Take off any clothing on the burnt area after you have cooled it down. But don’t pull off clothing that is stuck to your skin.
  • If you need to see a doctor, cover your burn before you go. You can apply a thin dressing  lightly bandaged in place. Cling film also works well but don’t wrap it around your arm or leg. It will get too tight if the area swells up. Layer the cling film on piece by piece and hold it in place.
  • Don’t put any cream or ointment (or butter) on your burn. These won’t help the burn to heal and if you do need medical attention the first thing the hospital or doctor will need to do is scrub the goop off.
  • Ask your pharmacist for advice regarding over the counter pain medication.
  • Don’t burst any blisters because this creates an open wound and increases the chances of infection.