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Charlie Weeks-Bell

First Aid Expert. Lead Trainer at St John Ambulance in the UK. St John Ambulance is the UK's leading first aid charity.
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Baby first aid

Treating burns and scalds

Burns are the most common reason babies, toddlers and children end up in A&E. Since these injuries are so common, it's really important to learn how to treat them.
Video Tutorial
In Short

If your baby, toddler or child gets a burn:

Run the affected area under cold water for at least 10 minutes or until the pain has lessened – whichever is longest.

Call an ambulance if severe. 

Treating baby burns and scalds
Hold the affected body part under cold running water for at least 10 minutes.

If your baby or child is burned in any way at all, whether it’s mild or severe, the initial treatment is the same: run it under cold water for at least 10 minutes.

If it looks deep, severe, or is larger than the size of the child’s hand and you have someone with you, ask them to call an ambulance while you begin the water treatment.

If you’re on your own, call the ambulance while you’re running the burn under cold water. Don’t wait to start the water treatment.

Why 10 minutes of cold running water?

You need to run the burn under water for this amount of time because it takes a long time to take the heat out of the burn.

Position the burn under the tap and begin to run the water over it, letting the water cascade all over the burn. The skin will start to get cold and your child might find the treatment upsetting but it’s essential you take the heat down.

The fact your child is upset is a secondary issue (albeit upsetting in itself). You must keep the burn under the cold running water so stay as calm as you can while holding your child. Chat and sing to them to try to distract them.

What about burns to the face?

Burns to the face are very serious in all cases since swelling from the burn might block or narrow your child’s airways.

Water should be gently poured over the affected area, angling the head in a way that ensures it doesn’t affect the airways.

In general, facial burns (especially in a child) should be treated at hospital.

How severe is the burn?

St John Ambulance defines three levels of severity:

1) A superficial burn (a bit red and sore);

2) A partial thickness burn (started to blister);

3) A full thickness burn (maybe blackened or charred or may be white or and waxy).

The treatment is the same for all three types. The pain can be just as intense for a less severe burn since there are lots of nerve endings just under the skin.

When should I call an ambulance?

1) If the child is under five

Call an ambulance or get immediate medical help at A&E if any child under the age of five years old receives a burn or scald.

You still need to run cold water over the burn for 10 minutes, though, since the burn will keep damaging the skin / deeper tissues until it is cooled.

2) If the burn is larger than 1% of the body (size of the hand), or deep, or severe

If the burn is larger than 1% of the patient’s body surface area (approximately the size of the patient’s hand), your child should be taken to hospital for further assessment.

3) A burn to the face

Always call an ambulance for a burn to the face, in case the airways are restricted in any way.

Should I burst blisters if my baby gets a burn?

No – never burst any blisters that form after a burn as they could then become infected.

Can I use butter or toothpaste on the burn?

No. Never use butter or toothpaste on a burn as this will not help and may make it worse.

How should I cover the burn after it’s been under cold water?

If it’s been run under the cold water for long enough and the heat’s been taken out you can safely cover the burn with something such as cling film. Even a clean plastic bag would do temporarily. Don’t use a bandage or anything fluffy like cotton, as it could stick to the burn.

What do I do if my child’s clothing is on fire?

Keep your child still – moving around will oxygenate the flames and encourage them to spread.

Drop your child to the ground if you have to, ideally by grabbing them and hugging them in something made of heavy-duty wool like a rug, coat or blanket.

Roll them along the ground until the flames have been smothered.

Treat as outlined above. Call for an ambulance immediately.

Summary of burns and scalds
  • RUN BURN UNDER WATER FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES
  • IF BURN LARGER THAN SIZE OF PATIENT’S HAND, DEEP, OR SEVERE, START THE WATER TREATMENT. AFTER APPROPRIATE COOLING TIME, COVER BURN AND TAKE PATIENT TO HOSPITAL/CALL AN AMBULANCE
  • BABIES AND CHILDREN NEED TO HAVE BURNS CHECKED AT A HOSPITAL EVEN IF YOU THINK THEY ARE NOT SEVERE.

Here is a summary of treatment of a burn:

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.