Warning as woman ‘horrendously’ burnt after ‘hot water bottle leak’

As the weather gets colder, a woman has issued an urgent warning to people who use hot water bottles to keep themselves warm or help with pain. Helen Cowell had been using a hot water bottle to combat back pain when it perished and left her with “horrendous” burns to her legs and bottom.

Speaking to WalesOnline, Helen explained: “I put it on the side of my leg while I was laying on the couch and it perished in the middle and went all over me.”

The incident happened last April, after the 45-year-old from Brynamman used boiling water when filling up her hot water bottle.

“I can’t even explain the pain,” she continued, “I was just screaming. The skin was off the back of my legs and my bottom. It was horrendous. I will never forget it for the rest of my life. Most people will tell you that unless you boil the water you can’t feel the heat – no matter how many times the doctors tell you that you shouldn’t be using hot water.”

Helen’s daughter rushed her to Morriston Hospital, with Helen saying she was “face down, screaming all the way” there.

She said: “Everyone, in all fairness, just stepped aside and I went straight in. I just remember being in a room in the intensive care unit and don’t remember much else – just the pain.

“It’s not just a little burn, it’s horrendous. I couldn’t walk properly for a while, because of the nerve damage in my legs, and had to use a Zimmer frame. I’ve got severe scarring – all inside my legs, my buttocks and the back of my calves – and it may never go away. If I wear shorts it’s very visible. Horrible, crumpled, crusty and dry. That upsets me too, but it could have been my face.”

Helen says she has been left “traumatised” by the incident and is too scared to have a bath, opting for lukewarm showers instead. She added that she can’t drain vegetables that have been boiled or pour a kettle. “People don’t think about these things. The fear of a boiling kettle – I couldn’t drink coffee or a cup of tea for nearly three months because of the fear. That’s how it has affected me,” she said.

Helen, who said she would never use a hot water bottle again, wants others to follow the guidelines if they must use one. She said: “I was in a supermarket the other day and saw this little old lady buying one and I said, ‘Please don’t buy that. If you are going to use them, make sure you use warm water and not hot water.’ Then I showed her my scarring.

“The sad part of it was she said, I have to buy them because I can’t afford my heating.’ Which is so sad. Some people are sleeping with them and that gives me so much anxiety. They put them in their bed and cuddle up with them. It doesn’t matter how much air you bring out of them – I did it all properly – it will perish eventually.

“Mine was only around six months old. What about older people who are using hot water bottles that are years old? When you put them in an airing cupboard they harden and when you put hot water in them they crack. It’s just not worth it. It’s something people really need to think about before they do it.

“It is hard. I understand why they are using them because it’s expensive to put the heating on right now. But I’d rather put a dressing gown on. And a blanket. Extra layers. That’s all I’m doing from now on. It’s just not worth it. It’s really not.”

Janine Evans, an advanced practitioner occupational therapist at the Morriston centre, said: “We’re not saying not to use hot water bottles, we’re saying that if you must use them, to ensure to use them safely. It’s all about minimising the risk of an accident happening.

“Ultimately, people are filling them with boiling water, which they shouldn’t be doing. We get patients who sustain a boiling water scald to their hand, as when filling it they miss the bottle and pour the hot water over their hand. Also, people are not checking whether the rubber is perished before filling it. And then the hot water either leaks out slowly, or in some cases it explodes.

“They can be quite big injuries. A lot of people use hot water bottles on their tummies or their lower back for pain relief. So the water can leak onto their groin or buttocks and that can be really painful and uncomfortable as you can imagine. If you have any sort of peripheral neuropathy you should be extra cautious. People with diabetes, for example, often use hot water bottles to warm up their feet. But because of their reduced sensation they don’t always notice when the hot liquid is leaking out. So the contact time is longer and they sustain more significant injuries.”

Staff nurse John Davies said the burns centre saw 20-30 patients with scalds from hot water bottles every year. He said: “Even superficial burns, such as scalds, are very, very painful because the nerve endings are still exposed. The deeper the burn the less the pain, but the more likely you will need skin grafting and be left with a permanent scar.

“During the fuel crisis I think people will be using hot water bottles to keep warm rather than putting the central heating on. They are safe to use if you look after them and learn how to fill and store them correctly.”

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