Preventing Burns in Children

Preventing Burns in Children

19 April 2018

Burns commonly result from the sun, scalding by hot liquids, fire, electricity or chemicals. Very young children have especially sensitive skin and even a burn from a cup of coffee can prove fatal. Burns happen within seconds. Be aware of the sources that could cause this type of injury and keep them away or switch them off when your child is around.

  • A first-degree burn is the mildest form, and the skin may appear red with slight swelling. It may look like sunburn.
  • Usually painful, a second-degree burn damages the top layer of the skin resulting in swelling and blisters.
  • A third-degree burn is the most serious type. The skin is seriously injured when its white, charred or at times goes beyond the surface. This burn damages the nerves, so chances are that your child might not feel pain

Home treatment
Only first-degree burns should be treated at home. Run cool water over the area for a few minutes to help lower the temperature. Apply aloe vera gel or antibiotic ointment over the area and cover it with a damp gauze or clean cloth. Avoid ice-cold water or ice packs, as it decreases the blood flow and may cause more pain.

Symptoms and signs of burns
Pain is not an indicator of the severity of a burn. Burns are classified into superficial, intermediate and deep – according to the depth and size.

Superficial and intermediate burns

Submerge the burnt area in cool running water for 10-30 minutes, until the pain subsides. Cool water reduces the heat and prevents further tissue damage. Alternatively, cover the burn with a wet, clean cloth or Burnshield, particularly if the burn is on the face. Don’t use ice: it can cause frostbite.


If the burn rubs against clothing, cover it with antiseptic cream and a dry gauze bandage changed twice a day.

Don’t burst blisters; they help skin heal. If blisters break, clean them with water, apply antiseptic ointment and cover with a gauze bandage. Change the bandage twice daily.

Remove clothing and jewellery from the burnt area as swelling could make it difficult to remove later. Don’t try to remove clothing that sticks to the skin.

If a secondary burn is on an arm or leg, keep the limb elevated above the heart.

Take paracetamol for pain.

Deep burns

Get to a hospital immediately. While waiting for transport or ambulance:

If the person is not breathing, perform rescue breathing.

Treat for shock if necessary.

Don’t remove any clothing at or near the burn site.

If the burn is on a limb, keep it elevated above the heart.

Run cool water over burned areas for 10 to 30 minutes.

Place clean, dry, non-fluffy cloths over the damaged area to help reduce loss of body heat.

Get help immediately if:

A child or elderly person is burnt, even if you think the burn is minor.

It is a deep, chemical or electrical burn.

An intermediate burn covers an area greater than your palm.

The face, hands, feet, genitals or creases of the joints are burnt, or the burn encircles a limb or body.

You are uncertain of the severity of the burn.

The person is in shock.

Call your doctor if:

Any burn becomes infected. Signs of infection include increased pain, redness, swelling, oozing or fever of 37.8°C or higher.

Any burn shows no improvement after two days.

Pain lasts longer than 48 hours.

The burn is intermediate and the person has not had a tetanus injection in the past five years.


Never leave a child alone in the kitchen with pots on the stove. Keep kettles and similar appliances out of reach of children. Turn pot handles toward the wall.

Supervise children in any room with a fireplace or paraffin stove.

Electrical appliances should be safely earthed and wall plugs secured with childproof covers.

Store erosive chemicals out of children’s reach.

Use flameproof materials for bedding and clothing.

Set your geyser at 50°C or lower.

Top tip:

Professor Heinz Rode, head of paediatric surgery at Red Cross Children’s Hospital, suggests that parents keep a tube of Burnshield in the house for emergencies. It’s made from Australian tea tree oil and has an immediate effect on pain by reducing the high temperature of the burn. It also has an antibacterial effect.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.

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