How to Treat Burns in Children

Three Methods:Evaluating the BurnTrying At-Home TreatmentOpting for Medical Treatment

Has your child sustained a burn? If so, it is key to be able to evaluate the severity of the burn, and then treat it as needed. Most mild burns can be treated at home, while more severe burns may warrant medical attention. In the case of a true emergency, call 911 for immediate medical help.

Method 1
Evaluating the Burn

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    Understand common causes of burns in children. Scalding liquids are the most prevalent cause of burns in children; this can occur from a bath that is too hot, or the child placing his or her hand under the tap in water that is too hot.[1] Other causes of burns include:
    • Chemical burns (these can be caused by paint thinner, gasoline, and strong acids)
    • Fire burns
    • Steam burns
    • Burns from hot objects (such as hot metal or hot glass)
    • Electrical burns
    • Ultraviolet burns (from sunlight or from excess time in tanning beds)
    • Abuse (in children especially, this must always be considered as a potential cause of a burn if there is any doubt whatsoever surrounding the circumstances of the burn)
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    Identify the severity of the burn. There are three "severities" of burns — first degree, second degree, and third degree.[2] Examine the area of the burn to get an idea of the severity and to assess whether or not you need to bring your child to the hospital.
    • First degree burns affect the outermost layer of skin only, causing pain, redness, and/or swelling. Generally, first degree burns are not too concerning and do not need to be seen by a doctor.
    • Second degree burns affect the outermost layer of skin as well as some of the inner layers. For this reason, they may cause blistering in addition to pain, redness, and swelling. Second degree burns greater than two to three inches wide require evaluation from a doctor right away.
    • Third degree burns travel through the full thickness of the skin. They may cause whitened or blackened skin, and may leave the skin feeling numb. Third degree burns always require evaluation by a medical professional.
    • It is also important to note the location of the burn. Burns on the hands, feet, face, buttocks, or over a joint and/or genitals are more serious and, if in doubt, warrant being evaluated by a medical professional.[3]
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    Know when to seek medical attention. In the case of a more serious burn, prompt medical attention is key to proper healing. It is important to go to the hospital if any of the following are present:[4]
    • You think it qualifies as a third degree burn.
    • The surface area of the burn is equal to or larger than the surface area of the child's palm.
    • It is a chemical burn or an electrical burn.
    • There was smoke at the time of the burn — this can cause a smoke inhalation injury.
    • The child shows signs of shock. (Symptoms include altered consciousness, paleness, dizziness or fainting, weakness, rapid heartbeat, or rapid or difficulty breathing.) Call 911 if these symptoms are present.
    • Physical abuse is suspected as a possible cause for the burn.
    • If at all uncertain, it is best to seek the professional opinion of a doctor.

Method 2
Trying At-Home Treatment

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    Place the burned area under cool water. Assuming it is a minor burn that does not require immediate medical attention, have your child place her affected area under cool water. Cool, flowing water is preferable to an ice pack for the treatment of burns, as ice can sometimes cause further damage to the injured tissue.[5] If the burns are multiple, you can consider placing your child in a cool bath to cover more areas of her body at one time.
    • Keep the affected area in cool water for at least five minutes.[6] After that, depending upon the pain level, your child can keep it under cool water, or simply place a cool towel on the affected area to diminish pain and to reduce the amount of swelling that follows.
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    Reassure the child.[7] Oftentimes, a burn can be a scary experience for a young child. Their fear around it, in many cases (assuming it is a minor burn), exceeds the injury itself. This is why reassurance and helping your child to stay calm and to cope with any pain is one of your top priorities.
    • To help with the pain, you can offer your child Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or Ibuprofen (Advil). Both of these medications are available over-the-counter, and help with pain control as well as with minimizing inflammation.
    • Read the dosages on the bottle and be sure to offer your child only the "children's dosing."
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    Gently clean the skin.[8] Prior to bandaging the burn, be sure to clean it thoroughly with soap and water. Also, be gentle while cleaning so as not to cause any further damage to the affected area.
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    Leave small blisters unbroken.[9] Oftentimes burns will leave the skin with some blisters present; if this is the case, let them heal naturally and do not attempt to break them open. If they have broken open on their own, clean them gently with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment prior to covering them with a bandage to prevent infection.
    • Don't use hand sanitizers or harsh soaps and don't use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean the area.
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    Try moisturizing ointment.[10] After cooling the burned area, as long as there is not any broken skin or open blisters, applying a moisturizing ointment can have a soothing effect as well. Aloe vera lotion or gel has naturally soothing properties for burns. Use this if you have any of it available at home, or if you can easily get to the store to buy some.
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    Cover the wound from the burn with a sterile dressing.[11] This will help to protect it from the environment, and will help it to heal. Be sure to change the dressing at least once a day to keep it clean.
    • If it is a small first degree burn without any broken skin, you may not need to cover it.
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    Consider your child's last tetanus immunization.[12] Whenever there is an open wound, medical protocol calls for the administration of a tetanus shot. If your child has previously had a tetanus shot, the immunity will last for 10 years after the shot and he will not need any additional shots during this time period. However, if you are uncertain if your child has had the shot, or when he last had it, consult with a physician to see if a tetanus shot is needed.
    • Many doctors recommend getting a tetanus shot if it has been more than five years since the last one and the child has second or third degree burns.
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    Encourage your child not to scratch.[13] Scratching the wound that remains following a burn only predisposes the wound to opening up further and increases the chances of infection. Explain to your child the importance of not scratching, and keep the wound covered with a sterile dressing as a reminder to your child that it is not to be touched.

Method 3
Opting for Medical Treatment

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    Go to the Emergency Department.[14] In the case of a severe burn, smoke inhalation, or a fire, bring your child to the Emergency Department as soon as possible. All of these qualify as emergencies, and deserve the attention of a medical professional immediately. For less severe second degree burns, you can usually see your family doctor.
    • If you suspect that abuse may be the cause of your child's burn, it is also key to see a medical professional. If you cannot get in to see your family doctor on the same day as the incident, proceed to the Emergency Room as official documentation of the injuries and the extent of the burn by medical professionals will be key in investigating what really caused your child's burn.
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    Ensure adequate hydration.[15] In the case of severe burns that require medical attention, your doctor will recommend keeping your child well-hydrated while the burn heals. Burns, depending upon their severity, can cause significant fluid loss; therefore, drinking lots of water, or even receiving IV fluids, may be necessary as part of the healing process.
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    Obtain skin grafts as needed.[16] In very severe burns that cover a large surface area, plastic surgeons may need to use what are called "skin grafts" (pieces of skin that are sewn over the area of the burn) to help with healing. These are reserved only for the most severe and extensive burns.

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Categories: Stings Bites and Burns