Not child's play: National estimates of microwave-related burn injuries among young children

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Previous studies have shown that children as young as 18 months can open a microwave and remove its contents causing sometimes severe scalds. Although this mechanism may be uniquely preventable by an engineering fix, no national estimate of this type of child burn injury has been reported.


We analyzed the Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data on emergency department–treated microwave-related burn injuries from January 2002 through December 2012 in children aged 12 months to 4 years. Based on the narrative description of how the injury occurred, we defined a case as a burn with a mechanism of either definitely or probably involving a child himself or herself opening a microwave oven and accessing the heated contents. National estimates of cases and their characteristics were calculated.


During the 11 years studied, an estimated 10,902 (95% confidence interval, 8,231–13,573) microwave-related burns occurred in children aged 12 months to 4 years. Of these, 7,274 (66.7%) (95% confidence interval, 5,135–9,413) were cases of children burned after accessing the contents of the microwave themselves. A total of 1,124 (15.5%) cases required hospitalization or transfer from the treating emergency department. Narratives for children as young as 12 months described the child himself or herself being able to access microwave contents. The most commonly burned body parts were the upper trunk (3,056 cases) and the face (1,039 cases). The most common scalding substances were water (2,863 cases), noodles (1,011 cases), and soup (931 cases).


The majority of microwave-related burns in young children occur as a result of the child himself or herself accessing the microwave and removing the contents. More than 600 young children are treated in US emergency departments annually for such burns. Children as young as 12 months sustained burns caused by this mechanism of injury. These burns could be prevented with a redesign of microwaves to thwart young children from being able to open the microwave oven door.


Epidemiologic study, level III.

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