I got 2nd-degree burns from my hot-water bottle.

  • Life Stuff
  • Splashing water and stars.

    Many of us will be putting off using the heating this winter for as long as possible, finding other ways to keep ourselves and our families warm. As I hate being cold at night, one of the ways I like to do this is to take a hot water bottle to bed.

    But I won’t anymore.

    Below I explain my story, with the hope of helping even just one person avoid the painful experience I endured.

    The burns

    At the end of November, after a lovely Thursday out with my mum, I was settling down for bed, doom-scrolling, hugging my bottle to my chest. As I went to roll over, the bottle split and the hot water burst over me, covering my chest and arm.

    Man, am I glad I was still awake.

    I ran straight from bed to the shower, and stood there under cold water for maybe 10 minutes, balancing cooling the burns with avoiding reducing my core body temperature too much. It hurt so much that I spent the next hour just lying on the bed, under a wet, cold towel, just crying. I’ve had little burns before – from the oven, a too-hot panhandle, mugs from the microwave – but this felt so so much worse.

    Because of burns I’d had before, and successfully managed with first aid, I naively felt that I would be able to deal with the burns myself. Therefore I wrapped my chest and arm in clingfilm, and decided the best thing to do now would just be to get to sleep. It took a while to get off to sleep, but in the morning the intense burning had stopped and I felt a lot better.

    Phew… not too bad, I thought.

    The morning after

    The Friday morning I unwrapped my burns and realised that there were many blisters developing. The burns covered the lower half of both of my breasts, a small strip of my stomach under them and on the back of my upper right arm. I re-wrapped and made a doctors’ appointment, just to be safe. The doctors took one look and sent me over to the minor injuries unit. They expressed some (calmly delivered) concern and told me they would debride (remove dead and damaged tissue) and clean up my wounds as best they could, and wrap them up with proper bandages. At the minor injuries unit, they reached out to the burns department of our local hospital and asked for their opinion on how to proceed.

    The hospital

    On the Saturday I got a call from Southmead Hospital’s Burn Clinic requesting my attendance so that they could take a look, so I headed over. I spent a few hours there having things checked over and receiving further treatment. It was ascertained that the burns to my arm and stomach were cursory and so required specialist care, and the focus would be on my chest. With no consultant being readily available due to a 50% burns victim arriving in A&E – poor soul – I was re-dressed and sent home.

    I returned on Monday to have a consultant check me over for signs of infection and to assess the severity of the burns, which were determined to be superficial to partial thickness (this used to be called first to second-degree burns). The Burns Clinic were initially unsure whether to admit me and put me on a drip of antibiotics, but ultimately decided I didn’t seem to need it (thank goodness!). They patched me up with silver dressings to help prevent infection from occurring and I was given a sickness note directing me to work from home, not do any lifting and to take it easy. My employers were thankfully very understanding and supportive, immediately working with me to make a plan that meant healing was our top priority.

    Clare in a hospital bed flashing to peace sign.

    The treatment

    In the following two weeks I attended the hospital every two to three days to get the wounds cleaned and the dressings changed over. Every member of staff I encountered at any point was reassuring, kind, straightforward forward and honest. They gave me clear information and guidance that has been so valuable in making sure my healing progresses as best as it can, and that honestly, I couldn’t have done myself with first aid. The team at Southmead Hospital told me they see hot water bottle burns all the time; they’d even had several coming and going during the period that I was there.

    Going forward

    Now, almost a month on, at time of writing, I’ve been discharged by the hospital for about 10 days, and am now doing self-care at home. My skin looks much more normal – almost like a rash rather than a burn now. My prescribed routine is to wash them daily with a cloth or in the shower and then moisturise using E45 (to begin with) or Aveeno (now) twice a day. There’s no pain anymore, just some itchiness that we’re all familiar with when it comes to sunburns etc. The likelihood of scarring is unclear, but I am honestly just thankful to have avoided infection or serious damage, so I’ll take it if it comes.

    In the long term I need to be extra careful of keeping my arm and breasts out of the sun (tragic, really) and ensure I use SPF Factor 50 to avoid an increased sensitivity in this ‘new’ area of skin. I asked whether I would be at an increased risk of either skin or breast cancer, and they assured me the only risk was in relation to sun protection, which should be a standard precaution for all of us anyway.

    I was very lucky to get away with this as I did. I don’t wear pyjamas so there was no clothing to remove or get stuck to the burns. I was still awake and so was alert enough to take action instantly. I am an adult and somewhat aware of what first aid I should administer.

    I never realised how many ways I inadvertently made an accident like this more likely to happen, and how I could have provided better care for myself following it. This has been a shit time, and I got off with it lightly, to be honest. So, I wanted to make this post as a PSA to pass on my learnings so that you can avoid this happening, both to yourselves, and also your family or friends, especially children.

    I hope this helps someone

    Below are some key takeaways I learnt from talking to various nurses and doctors.

    In general, the advice is to not use hot water bottles at all. The same goes for wheat warmers according to medical staff. Apparently, an electric blanket is safer – who knew?! But, if you must…

    Hot water bottle care:

    • Always store your bottle empty, and with the plug removed.
    • NEVER use boiling water. Use warmer water from a tap, or let the water cool before you fill the bottle.
    • Only fill the bottle about 2/3 of the way, and squeeze out the excess air as much as possible before sealing.
    • Triple-check that the plug is completely secure.
    • Don’t use the naked bottle against your skin, use a bottle cover of some sort.
    • Don’t leave children unattended with a hot water bottle, or let them make it up themselves.
    • Replace your water bottle after every year. The rubber deteriorates very quickly.

    Burn care:

    • Immediately place the burnt area under running, cool or lukewarm water for a minimum of 20 minutes. Be mindful to avoid reducing the body’s core temperature too low – avoid hypothermia.
    • Do not attempt to remove anything that is stuck to the burns, such as clothing.
    • It’s important to prevent infection, so you should wrap the wound in clingfilm if possible. You don’t want the burn exposed. Infection can become very serious very quickly, so this should be a high priority.
    • Use paracetamol or ibuprofen for the pain. Keeping the wound from being exposed will also help with this.
    • If the burn is on a child or larger than the size of your hand, seek medical attention soon at your nearest A&E or Minor Injuries Department.
    • If you have large blisters or skin peeling away, seek medical attention as soon as you can.
    • If you’re in any doubt whatsoever, attend your nearest A&E or Minor Injuries Department.
    • It is always best to seek medical aid sooner rather than later to avoid the risk of infection.

    Thanks for reading.

    I hope this helps just one person to bin their bottle or have a chat with their children about what to do in a burn emergency. Take care out there guys x

    Related topics.

    Let's chat!

    If you’d like to reach out to me to talk about a project, collaboration, have some Qs or want to say hi, drop me a message - I’d be happy to help!

    Get in Touch

    Let’s keep this good thing going.

    Be the first to know about new articles, products, and projects too.

    This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.