When water turns to steam, it expands to approximately 1,600 times its previous volume. Steam can escape under pressure. This means it may come out in a jet that can cause injury.
Many appliances are designed to use steam under pressure, including:
- Steam irons
- Steam cleaners
Steam can be easily inhaled. Superheated molecules can travel deep into your nose, mouth, and throat. This is why vaporizers can be dangerous, especially for children.
There is no evidence that vaporizers are helpful for treating viruses or other respiratory infections.
They can also cause steam burns of the skin and airways. For these reasons, they aren’t recommended.
In microwave ovens, the water molecules in food can turn to steam. When the steam expands, it can shoot out of solid foods. This is why food sometimes “pops” in the microwave.
Microwaved food can sometimes cause steam burns. One study identified eight patients who were injured by steam from exploding potatoes and eggs that came out of microwave ovens.3 In another case, a patient’s eye was injured while opening a bag of microwave popcorn.
Syncope is a sudden loss of consciousness, also known as fainting. People who have medical conditions that lead to syncope are more likely to be burned by household appliances. This includes appliances that generate steam.
People who have conditions that lead to seizures are at similar risk.
Risks for Children
Kids are more likely to put their hands or faces into escaping steam. This can cause a steam burn on exposed skin.
This type of exposure can also cause other serious problems, like epiglottitis. This is a condition where tissue in the windpipe becomes swollen. In children, symptoms can come on quickly. The condition can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention.