Pic: Helen Cowell

Cost of living: ‘Horrendous’ burns from hot water bottle prompts warning over using them over heating this winter

Medics are warning of the dangers of using hot water bottles as an alternative to central heating after one woman suffered “horrendous” burns.

Helen Cowell was left traumatised and walking with a zimmer frame after her hot water bottle exploded, scarring her legs and buttocks.

:: Warning distressing images below

The 45-year-old from Brynamman in South Wales was using one to counter chronic back pain in April but fears similar incidents will start happening regularly as people opt for hot water bottles instead of turning the heating on amid soaring energy prices.

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“It’s hard. I understand why people are using them because it’s expensive to put the heating on right now,” she said.

“But I’d rather put a dressing gown on and a blanket – extra layers. It’s just not worth it, it’s really not.”

Ms Cowell suffered burns on the back of her legs and buttocks. Pic: Helen Cowell

John Davies, nurse at Swansea Bay University Health Board – home to the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery, says he sees around 30 patients with hot water bottle burns every year.

“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 properly,” he said.

Janine Evans, an advanced practitioner occupational therapist at the centre where Ms Cowell was treated, said you should not fill hot water bottles with boiling water – and use cooled water from a kettle instead.

“They can be quite big injuries. A lot of people use hot water bottles on their tummies or their lower back for pain relief, she said.

“So the water can leak onto their groin or buttocks and that can be really painful and uncomfortable.”

Burns experts’ tips on using hot water bottles safely

Check your hot water bottle for signs of wear, damage and leaks before each use.

Ensure that the stopper screws on and stays in place prior to filling.

Don’t use tap water to fill your hot water bottle as the impurities it contains can cause the rubber to perish more rapidly. Use boiled water that has been allowed to cool for a few minutes.

Do not fill your hot water bottle more than two thirds full.

Ensure excess air is expelled before replacing the stopper.

Always use a cover on your hot water bottle.

Do not sit, lie or put excess pressure on your hot water bottle when it is filled.

Do not allow direct contact with one area of the body for more than 20 minutes.

When not in use, your hot water bottle should be completely drained of water and the stopper removed.

Store away from direct sources of heat or sunlight.

Replace your hot water bottle every two years.

Ensure your hot water bottle complies with British Safety Standards.

‘I can’t explain the pain’

Ms Cowell said of her injuries: “I can’t even explain the pain. 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.

“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.

“It’s traumatised me. I can’t have a bath, I’m too scared. I have to have a lukewarm shower. If I’m boiling potatoes or veg I can’t drain them. My daughter has to do all that. I won’t pour a kettle.”

She added that although guidance says you should change hot water bottle every two years – hers was just six months old when it perished.

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