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First Aid for Burns: Parent FAQs

What you should do when your child gets a burn depends on how severe the burn is. Simply put, there are three levels of burns; knowing how to treat each of them quickly and efficiently is crucial.

  • First degree. The skin turns red, but it does not blister. It is somewhat painful, like a sunburn.
  • Second degree. The outer layer of skin is burned, and some part of the dermis is damaged. The burn will be very painful and will likely develop blisters.
  • Third degree. The skin will be charred or white. The epidermis and dermis (top two layers of skin) are irreversibly damaged.

Any electrical burn or a burn where the skin is charred, leathery, burned away, or has no feeling is severe and should receive medical attention right away. Any blistering, swollen burn that covers an area larger than the size of your child's hand, or a burn that is on the hand, foot, face, genitals, or over a joint is a serious injury and should be seen immediately by a pediatrician or in an emergency room. If you are worried about a burn, even if it doesn't look like any of the above types of burns, a pediatrician should see it.

My child has a minor burn. How should I treat it?

Most small, blistering burns can treated and cared for at home. If you have any questions about whether a burn can be taken care of at home, discuss with your doctor. 

Here's what to do:

  1. Cool the burn. Run cool running water over the burn for about five minutes. This helps stop the burning process and decreases pain and swelling. Do not put ice on a burn. Do not rub a burn, because this can worsen the injury. Do not break blisters as this can increase the risk of infection at the burn site.
  2. Cover the burn. Cover the burned area with a clean bandage that will not stick to the burned site. This helps decrease the risk of infection and decreases pain.
  3. Protect the burn. Keep the burn site clean with gentle washing with soap and water. Do not apply any ointments to the burn site unless instructed by your pediatrician. Never apply butter, greases, or other home remedies to a burn before discussing with your pediatrician, as these can increase the risk of infection as well.

If my child's burn is still painful after I have cooled it for 5 minutes and covered it, what should I do?

The chances are the burn will still be painful. Don't forget to give your child some pain medicine and reassure your child to remain calm.

Will my child's burn leave a scar?

The deeper the burn, the more likely that it will scar. Minor burns that do not blister usually heal without scarring. Burns that form blisters sometimes form a scar or may heal a different color than the surrounding skin.

To minimize scarring, keep burns covered until they have healed with new skin and do not weep any fluid. After this time, it is OK to keep the burn uncovered, but it should protected from any sun for one year to avoid skin darkening. Sun protection can be coverage with clothing or sunscreen.

Did you know?

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 75% of burns in young children are from liquid, hot tap water, or steam. Another 20% are considered "contact" burns from touching a hot object like a clothes iron or hair appliance. Learn ways to prevent burns and keep kids safe.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
Section on Plastic Surgery (Copyright © 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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