From kids washing up under a too-hot faucet to an accidental tipping of a
coffee cup, burns are a potential hazard in every home. In fact, burns, especially
scalds from hot water and liquids, are some of the most common childhood accidents.
Babies and young children are especially at risk — they're curious,
small, and have sensitive skin that needs extra protection.
Although some minor burns aren't cause for concern and can be safely treated at
home, other more serious burns require medical care. But taking some simple precautions
to make your home safer can prevent many burns.
The first step in helping to prevent kids from being burned is to understand these
common causes of burns:
scalds, the No. 1 culprit (from steam, hot bath water, tipped-over coffee
cups, hot foods, cooking fluids, etc.)
contact with flames or hot objects (from the stove, fireplace, curling iron, etc.)
chemical burns (from swallowing things, like drain cleaner or watch batteries,
or spilling chemicals, such as bleach, onto the skin)
electrical burns (from biting on electrical cords or sticking fingers or objects
in electrical outlets, etc.)
Burns are often categorized as first-, second-, or third-degree, depending on how
badly the skin is damaged. Each of the injuries above can cause any of these three types
of burns. The type of burn and its cause will determine how the burn is treated.
All burns should be treated quickly to reduce the temperature of the burned area
and reduce damage to the skin and underlying tissue (if the burn is severe).
First-degree burns, the mildest of the three, are limited to the top layer of skin:
Signs and symptoms: These burns produce redness, pain, and minor swelling.
The skin is dry without blisters.
Healing time: Healing time is about 3 to 6 days; the superficial skin
layer over the burn may peel off in 1 or 2 days.
Second-degree burns are more serious and involve the skin layers beneath the top
Signs and symptoms: These burns produce blisters, severe pain, and redness.
The blisters sometimes break open and the area is wet looking with a bright pink to
cherry red color.
Healing time: Healing time varies depending on the severity of the burn.
It can take up to 3 weeks or more.
Third-degree burns are the most serious type of burn and involve all the layers
of the skin and underlying tissue:
Signs and symptoms: The surface appears dry and can look waxy white,
leathery, brown, or charred. There may be little or no pain or the area may feel numb
at first because of nerve damage.
Healing time: Healing time depends on the severity of the burn. Third-degree
burns (called full-thickness burns) will likely need to be treated with skin grafts,
in which healthy skin is taken from another part of the body and surgically placed
over the burn wound to help the area heal.
What to Do
Seek Medical Help Immediately When:
You think your child has a second- or third-degree burn.
The burned area is large (2-3 inches in diameter), even if it seems like a minor
burn. For any burn that appears to cover more than 10% of the body,
call for medical assistance. Do not use wet compresses or ice
because they can cause the child's body temperature to drop. Instead, cover the area
with a clean, soft cloth or towel.
The burn comes from a fire, an electrical wire or socket, or chemicals.
The burn is on the face, scalp, hands, joint surfaces, or genitals.
The burn looks infected (with swelling, pus, increasing redness, or red streaking
of the skin near the wound).
For First-Degree Burns:
Remove the child from the heat source.
Remove clothing from the burned area immediately.
Run cool (not cold) water over the burned area (if water isn't
available, any cold, drinkable fluid can be used) or hold a clean,
cold compress on the burn for approximately 3-5 minutes (do not use ice, as
it may causemore destruction to the injured skin).
Do not apply butter, grease, powder, or any other remedies to
the burn, as these can make the burn deeper and increase the risk of infection.
Apply aloe gel or cream to the affected area. This may be done a few times during
Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Refer to the dosing guidelines
on the label according to your child's age or weight.
If the area affected is small (the size of a quarter or smaller), keep it clean.
You can protect it with a sterile gauze pad or bandage for the next 24 hours (but
do not use adhesive bandages on very young kids, as these can be a choking hazard).
Keep your child lying down with the burned area elevated.
Follow the instructions for first-degree burns.
Remove all jewelry and clothing from around the burn (in case there's any swelling
after the injury), except for clothing that's stuck to the skin. If you're having
difficulty removing clothing, you may need to cut it off or wait until medical assistance
Do not break any blisters.
Apply cool water over the area for at least 3-5 minutes, then cover the area with
a clean dry cloth or sheet until help arrives.
What to Do (continued)
For Flame Burns:
Extinguish the flames by having your child roll on the ground.
Cover him or her with a blanket or jacket.
Remove smoldering clothing and any jewelry around the burned area.
Call for medical assistance, then follow instructions for second- and third-degree
For Electrical and Chemical Burns:
Make sure the child is not in contact with the electrical source before touching
him or her, or you also may get shocked.
For chemical burns, flush the area with lots of running water for 5 minutes or
more. If the burned area is large, use a tub, shower, buckets of water, or a garden
Do not remove any of your child's clothing before you've begun
flushing the burn with water. As you continue flushing the burn, you can then remove
clothing from the burned area.
If the burned area from a chemical is small, flush for another 10-20 minutes,
apply a sterile gauze pad or bandage, and call your doctor.
Chemical burns to the mouth or eyes require immediate medical evaluation after
thorough flushing with water.
Although both chemical and electrical burns might not always be visible, they can
be serious because of potential damage to internal organs. Symptoms may vary, depending
on the type and severity of the burn and what caused it.
If you think your child may have swallowed a chemical substance or an object that
could be harmful (for instance, a watch battery), first call poison control
and then the emergency department.
It is helpful to know what chemical product the child has swallowed or has been
exposed to. You may need to take it with you to the hospital. Keep the number for
poison control, (800) 222-1222, in an easily accessible place, such as on the refrigerator.
You can't keep kids free from injuries all the time, but these simple precautions
can reduce the chances of burns in your home:
Keep matches, lighters, chemicals, and lit candles out of kids' reach.
Put child-safety covers on all electrical outlets.
Get rid of equipment and appliances with old or frayed cords and extension cords
that look damaged.
If you need to use a humidifier or vaporizer, use a cool-mist model rather than
a hot-steam one.
Choose sleepwear that's labeled flame retardant (either polyester or treated cotton).
Cotton sweatshirts or pants that aren't labeled as sleepwear generally aren't flame
Make sure older kids and teens are especially careful when using irons, flat
irons, or curling irons.
Prevent house fires by making sure you have a smoke alarm on every level of your
home and in each bedroom. Check these monthly and change the batteries twice a year.
Replace smoke alarms that are 10 years or older.
If you smoke, don't smoke in the house, especially when you're tired, taking medicines
that can make you drowsy, or in bed.
Don't use fireworks or sparklers.
Set the thermostat on your hot water heater to 120°F (49°C), or use the
"low-medium setting." A child can be scalded in 5 seconds in water if the temperature
is 140°F (60°C). If you're unable to control the water temperature (if you
live in an apartment, for example), install an anti-scald device, which is fairly
inexpensive and can be installed you or by a plumber.
Always test bath water with your elbow before putting your child in it.
Always turn the cold water on first and turn it off last when running water in
the bathtub or sink.
Turn kids away from the faucet or fixtures so they're less likely to play with
them and turn on the hot water.
Preventing Burns (continued)
Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove every time you cook.
Block access to the stove as much as possible.
Never let a child use a walker in the kitchen (and health experts strongly
discourage using walkers at all).
Avoid using tablecloths or large placemats. Youngsters can pull on them and
overturn a hot drink or plate of food.
Keep hot drinks and foods out of reach of children.
Never drink hot beverages or soup with a child sitting on your
lap or carry hot liquids or dishes around kids. If you have to walk with hot liquid
in the kitchen (like a pot of soup or cup of coffee), make sure you know where kids
are so you don't trip over them.
Never hold a baby or small child while cooking.
Never warm baby bottles in the microwave oven. The liquid may
heat unevenly, resulting in pockets of breast milk or formula that can scald a baby's
Screen fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Radiators and electric baseboard heaters
may need to be screened as well.
Teach kids never to put anything into the fireplace when it is lit. Also make
sure they know the glass doors to the fireplace can be very hot and cause a burn.
Outside/In the Car
equipment with caution. If it's very hot outside, use the equipment only in the morning,
when it's had a chance to cool down during the night.
Remove your child's safety
seat or stroller from the hot sun when not in use because kids can get burns from
hot vinyl and metal. If you must leave your car seat or stroller in the sun, cover
it with a blanket or towel.
Before leaving your parked car on a hot day, hide the seatbelts' metal latch plates
in the seats to prevent the sun from hitting them directly.
Don't forget to apply sunscreen
when going outside. Use a product with the SPF of 15 or higher. Apply sunscreen 20-30
minutes before going out and reapply every 2 hours or more often if in water.
Try to keep infants under 6 months of age out of the sun.