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Burns and scalds are a leading cause of injury to young children, with toddlers most at risk because of their increased mobility and natural curiosity.
There are six main types of burns: scalds (caused by hot liquids, foods or steam), flame, contact (with hot objects e.g. heaters, or with very cold objects e.g. dry ice), friction, chemical and electrical.
The main cause of burns in young children is scalds caused by hot foods and drinks, steam and liquids. Children are commonly scalded by hot food and drinks (e.g. tea, coffee, soups, noodles) that have been pulled down off benches. This can result in serious burns to the face, neck, chest, and shoulders.
All burns can be serious. Even small burns, depending on where they occur, can have long-term consequences for your child. Severe burns often require ongoing physiotherapy and multiple surgeries.
Burn injuries often occur in the home, most often in kitchens and bathrooms, but other high-risk places include fireplaces and camping sites. By taking a few minutes to make your home and environment as safe as possible, you could prevent a life-changing injury.
Treatment is the same for all burn injuries.
As soon as possible, hold the burn under cool running water for 20 minutes only. This is useful for up to three hours after the burn. Remove clothing or jewellery that is not stuck to the burn, being gentle not to further damage the skin. Sometimes you will need to cut clothing to remove it. It’s important to try to keep your child as warm as possible and just target the burn with the cool water.
If the burn is minor and has not caused the skin to blister or break, and your child seems settled, there is no need to see a doctor. For all other burns, seek medical assistance.
You should seek medical help immediately if:
Cover the burn with a loose, non-stick dressing (sterile non-stick dressing or plastic cling film) until your child is seen by a doctor. However, do not keep plastic cling film on for more than an hour. The doctor may apply a new dressing, which will keep the burn clean and help to reduce pain.
Do not use ice to cool the burn as this may make the burn worse. Never apply any lotions, creams or food items (including egg whites, butter, toothpaste, potato). Cool running water is best.
Call an ambulance immediately if your child has a severe burn injury.
Should I put a burn cream from the pharmacy on my child's burn?
The most important immediate treatment for a burn is cool, running water. Your child's doctor or nurse will advise the best dressings for the wound to maximise healing and minimise scarring. Mild burns (e.g. sunburn) can respond to over-the-counter gels, like aloe vera.
Should I put my child under cool water or take them straight to hospital?
It is important to cool the burn as soon as possible, as this helps reduce the pain and will minimise any further burn damage. For serious burns, if possible, call for an ambulance while you are cooling the burn. The cool water should be continued for 20 minutes before taking your child to hospital.
What should I do in the event of a chemical burn?
It is important to irrigate (wash-out) any chemical burns with large amounts of water. If a burn occurs in or near the eyes, wash the area with water or normal saline as much as possible.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Burns Unit. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed August 2018.
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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.