What to Do if Your Child Suffers a Burn Injury

Childhood injuries are inevitable. No matter how much padding or childproofing you install, there will be bumps and bruises, scrapes and maybe even a broken bone or two. Most parents are equipped with basic first aid training to take care of minor injuries or manage them until a medical professional can take over. One area where parents might want a first aid refresher is in burn care.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day more than 300 children with a burn injury are seen at emergency departments around the country. While fire prevention education has had a tremendous impact on reducing the number of burn injuries in the United States, they do still happen, and many burn injuries are not caused by an open flame. Scald burns (burns caused by hot liquids) are the most common type of burn among children 4 and under.


What to Do in a Burn Emergency

In all cases of severe burns call 911 immediately. When burns are really serious, you’ll want trained help quickly. However, there are ways to be proactive, limiting exposure and reducing injury, during the vital period when you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive.


Flame burns treatment – Smother the flames using a heavy blanket or carpet, or using the “stop, drop and roll” technique. Cool the burn with lukewarm or cool water.


Scald burns treatment – Immediately remove the affected clothing (which traps heat and prolongs exposure) and cool the area with lukewarm or cool water.


Chemical burns treatment – Flush with large quantities of water to dilute the chemical and remove it from the skin. Eyes should be flushed with water or saline for at least 20 minutes.


Electrical burns treatment – Do not touch the child with bare hands if he or she is still in contact with the current source. Turn off the current immediately. If this is not an option, use an insulated pad or clothing to gently push the child off the source.


Frostbite treatment – Warm the skin using lukewarm water.


Sunburn treatment – Prevention is the best treatment. Wear protective clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen when appropriate. Avoid exposure during the most sunny times of the day in the hours before and after mid-day. If sunburn does occur, initially apply cool damp towels to skin for comfort. In some cases a moisturizer may provide comfort in the following hours. Blisters are best left alone if they occur. Drinking extra fluid will reduce symptoms of dehydration. In some cases acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent may be useful for comfort. Rarely, sun exposure has been enough to cause systemic illness, with lightheadedness, vomiting and swelling. Medical care should be sought in such situations. Later, it’s important to prevent exposure to intense sun in the days and weeks after suffering a sunburn.


For even the most minor burn, your first instinct might be to grab ice to cool the injury. Burns should be treated with lukewarm or cool water, not cold water or ice. Ice and extremely cold water can slow the flow of blood to the burned area, potentially doing further damage. If a small portion of the skin has been affected, you can immerse the burned area in still water. Do not immerse a large burn in cool water, as it could cause hypothermia.


In some cases, a blister may form quickly. It is not recommended to break blisters until your child is seen by a medical provider. It is also ideal to avoid ointments and creams unless advised to use them. Burns that will be seen by a provider are best simply covered with a clean, dry dressing.


Do not hesitate at any point to seek medical help, keeping in mind that it is very common for burns to appear minor initially but worsen in the following days. Burns that are larger than three inches in diameter or wrap completely around an extremity should be seen immediately by a medical provider. Burns that occur on the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks should be evaluated regardless of size.


Be Burn Aware at Home


While accidents do happen, there are precautions you can take around the home to prevent burn injuries, including:


* Set the water heater temperature no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

* Turn pot handles to the back of the stove.

* Fill the bathtub with cold water first, then warm water until a comfortable temperature is reached. Always test the bath water first, before allowing a child to enter the tub. Keep in mind children’s skin burns at a lower temperature than teens and adults. What may not be too hot for you, may be too hot for your child.

* Children should face away from the faucet in the bathtub.

* Do not hold a hot beverage when carrying your child.

* Do not place hot beverages in stroller cup holders.

* Avoid using table cloths because small children are prone to pulling on them, bringing hot dishes crashing down.


Dr. Robert Sheridan is the medical director of the acute burn service at Shriners Hospitals for Children Boston. Elizabeth Fisher is the hospital’s public relations manager.

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17 Feb 2016

By Robert Sheridan, M.D., and Elizabeth Fisher