Common cold remedy ‘not recommended’ for children

By Helen Albert

Research suggests that using steam inhalation as a remedy for a blocked nose or sinuses in children can be dangerous due to a high scalding risk associated with this therapy.

Writing in the British Journal of General Practice, Martin Baartmans (Maastad Hospital, Rotterdam, the Netherlands) and colleagues report that three people a year or more are admitted to Dutch burn units with serious burns related to steam inhalations, the large majority of whom are children.

"As there is no proven benefit, steam inhalation therapy should not be recommended for the common cold," they say.

The researchers found that the total economic cost for burn center and emergency department treatment of these injuries was high, at a total of € 115,500 (£ 93,000; US$ 145,275) across three centers in Beverwijk, Groningen, and Rotterdam between 1998 and 2007.

In total, 31 people were admitted to the centers with steam-inhalation related scalds or burns during the study period. Of these, 29 were due to the hot water being spilled and to the steam itself in two cases.

Of the patients with steam-inhalation related scalds or burns, 19 (61%) were under the age of 16 years.

The mean total body surface area burned was 5.8% and the most common areas affected were thigh, lower abdomen, and the genital area, largely due to the bowl of water being overturned onto the lap of the person in question.

Fourteen patients (nine children) needed a bladder catheter and six (five children) needed a skin graft as a result of their injuries.

Compared with the traditional bowl on a table method, "taking a hot shower or holding a child in the bathroom while the hot shower is running to clear sinuses may be a less risky way of prescribing steam inhalation," say the authors, "however its effectiveness is unclear," they emphasize.

Baartmans and co-workers conclude that, especially in regard to children, "steam inhalation therapy should be considered a dangerous procedure and no longer recommended in professional guidelines and patient brochures."

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