More than 500 children under five are taken to hospital every week because of burns and scalds.
Burns are particularly serious for small children and babies. They haven’t yet developed the reflex to move away from something hot and their skin is up to 15 times thinner than that of an adult. Damage tends to be more severe and because they have a smaller body surface area which means the burn covers a larger proportion of their body. The greater the area covered, the more serious the injury and the impact for the child.
Burns are frightening and the pain and damage caused can be devastating. The physical and psychological damage from a serious childhood burn can last well into adulthood. Knowing what to do can radically reduce the amount of pain and scarring experienced and can mean a full recovery without even needing to be admitted.
Prevention is key. Read our blog post on Online First Aid for useful tips on how to prevent burns.
How to Treat a Burn
- Extremely carefully, remove loose clothing covering the burn.
Do not take clothes off if there is any risk the skin has stuck to them or if the skin has blistered.
- Put the affected area under cool running water for at least 10 minutes (ideally longer). Remember you are cooling the burn and not the casualty, so try and keep the water running over just the burnt area.
- Keep the rest of the casualty as warm and dry as possible and watch for any signs of shock.
- Phone an ambulance, particularly if a large area is affected, or if the skin is broken or blistered. Keep the area under the water while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.
A burn is measured using the size of your hand, which is roughly equivalent to 1% of your body. Therefore, a burn measuring just the size of a 50p piece or a postage stamp can be very serious for a baby or small child. Burns to the hands, face, feet, genitals, airways, or a burn that extends all the way round a limb are particularly serious.
- Remove anything that has stuck to a burn
- Touch a burn
- Burst blisters
- Apply any creams, lotions or fats
- Apply tight dressings, tapes or use anything fluffy
Always get burns assessed by a medical professional.
Dressing a Burn
A burn shouldn’t be dressed until it has been cooled for at least 15 minutes. Covering a burn reduces the risk of infection and reduces pain by covering exposed nerve endings. If a child is burnt and the burn is so bad you need to dress it, phone an ambulance and continue to cool the burn under running water. The paramedics will assess and dress it.
For adults, cling film is a good temporary dressing. Discard the first couple of turns of cling film and place an inner piece loosely over the burn. Plastic bags and sterile non-fluffy dressings are also useful as dressings.
It is highly recommended that you attend a practical or online first aid course to learn how to help in a medical emergency.
First Aid for Life and onlinefirstaid.com provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. The best way to be prepared for action in an emergency is to attend a practical first aid course.