Warning about keeping warm with wheat bags

The Royal Adelaide Hospital Burns Unit is warning people to be very careful when using wheat bags that are heated in microwave ovens, following a spate of serious burns cases.

Burns Unit Director, Dr John Greenwood, says people with conditions such as diabetes should be especially careful when using these small wheat bags, as they can heat to very high temperatures and cause serious injury.

“We have seen patients with deep burns who have been unable to feel how hot the wheat bags actually are due to reduced sensation in their feet in particular, as a result of conditions like diabetes,” he says.

“One patient presented with the soles of his feet deeply burned due to prolonged exposure to a wheat bag that was overheated in a microwave oven.”

Dr Greenwood urges everyone, particularly the frail and elderly, to be very careful when using these types of items to provide heat to parts of the body.

“The problem worsens as the wheat bag gets older – with older bags you can sometimes actually smell the wheat burning in the microwave. Older bags get hotter at the same microwave temperature and retain heat for longer.”

Hot water bottles can pose similar risks, with Burns Unit staff witness to numerous serious burns and even a death caused by a hot water bottle.

Dr Greenwood says most hot water bottle-related injuries can be traced either to bottles not manufactured to Australian (and British) standards, leaks or ruptures, or bottles not being used according to safety instructions (either overfilled, water too hot or too much weight or pressure placed on the full bottle).

“These products are designed to be placed in the bed to warm the sheets or for the short term relief from such ailments as muscle strains. They should be removed before you get into bed, not cuddled like a teddy bear,” he says.

Dr Greenwood urges people to be very careful and to throw away the wheat bags after using them each winter. Similarly, hot water bottles are usually only good for one or two seasons before rubber fatigue sets in.

“The cost of replacing them regularly is nothing compared to the damage and pain they can cause if not used properly.”