How to treat a burn on a baby or child? A step by step guide

Dr. Sandro Cantoni. Updated: 27 July 2021

You hear a scream and your baby comes with a reddened arm and a blister. He touched the oven. What to do?

Baby’s burns are one of the most frequent emergencies. 

Even the children of the most diligent and careful parents can get burned. I often see them in my outpatient clinic. 

This is because the child is an explorer and 100% supervision is not possible around the clock.

Usually, burns in the baby are caused by boiling liquid, such as bathwater, hot tea, or coffee. 

Or from contact with a high-temperature object, such as an oven, a stove.

But if your child has a burn, what should you do?

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What you have to do depends on the type of burn and how big it is.

There are mild burns, which can be treated at home, 

Sometimes the burn is more serious, so you have to go to the doctor or hospital. 

The minor burns are only very superficial and small. 

In these burns, there is a reddening of the skin less than 5 cm, or only a very small blister, less than one centimeter in size. 

In all other cases, after starting to treat the burn, you should go to the doctor or hospital. 

When should I go to the emergency room for my baby’s burn?

If your child has one of these conditions, you should call the doctor immediately or go to the hospital. 

The child is less than 1 year old.

The burn is large, greater than 5 cm.

The burn is caused by an electric shock, fire, or a caustic product.

The burned area is on the face, or neck, genital area, hands, or feet. In particular, if the burn affects the hands and feet, if it is not treated well the child may have problems with movement.

In the burnt skin, there are several blisters.

The burn is more severe with large burst blisters or areas of dark or white.

The child is sick, seems confused, sleepy, or has difficulty breathing.

If you think your child has a severe burn or you feel agitated and worried. 

How do you treat baby burns? Even serious ones, before going to the hospital.

First, let’s see what you don’t have to do. 

Some remedies are completely useless and can actually cause damage to burnt skin.

Do not put oil, butter, toothpaste, powder, or other household remedies. These things can make the burn worse. 

Avoid putting ice on the burned area. 

Do not pie blisters that are intact. This is because the outer layer of the blister protects the subcutaneous tissue from infection.

These are the things to do if your baby has a burn.

Follow this order precisely.

1. Try to calm your child. Wash your hands. 

2. Remove the clothes covering the burn, cut them if necessary, but do not remove those stuck to the skin.

3. Cool the burn area by placing it under fresh tap water for 10 minutes. 

5. Give pain medication such as paracetamol, e.g. tylenol or ibuprofen.

6. If there are no or blisters, you can simply put on a protective ointment, without making a dressing with gauze.

7. If there are blisters, protect the burn area in this way. Apply a generous layer of a burn ointment. Then cover the area with a sterile non-adherent dressing. 

If you don’t have the ointment and you need to go to the doctor or hospital, you can also use a transparent plastic film sheet, or a clean cloth or towel. 

If the burn is very mild, for example only a small area of reddened skin (less than 5 cm), or with only a small blister, which measures less than one centimeter, you can treat it at home. 

Otherwise, contact your doctor or take your child to the emergency room.

How to continue dressing at home?

Burn with redness only.

In the case of a very superficial burn, i.e. only with a small redness of the skin without blisters do this.

Apply a moisturizing and soothing ointment 2 or 3 times a day. It is not necessary to cover the area.

Burn with a small blister.

Yes, there is a blister, very small, less than a centimeter, you need to change and check the dressing every day in this way.

1. Disinfect the burned area with a chlorhexidine product, avoid alcohol.

2. Apply an abundant layer of a burn cream or ointment.

3. Cover the area with sterile non-adherent gauze.

How quickly do a baby’s burns heal?

It depends on the type of burn. 

A very superficial burn without blisters (also called 1st-degree burn) heals in 4-6 days. 

A superficial burn with blisters (also called a 2nd-degree burn) usually heals in 2-3 weeks. 

If the burn area does not improve in a few days, or if the child has pain, or if the skin around it is reddened or there is yellow secretion, there may be an infection. In this case, contact the doctor or take the child to the emergency room.

When the burn is healed, does it leave a scar?

If the burn is very superficial it should heal completely without leaving any marks. 

If there are blisters, sometimes a scar or an area of skin of a different color remains. 

The best way to prevent scars is to treat the burn well according to the indications above. 

In particular, leave the affected area covered until the new skin has formed and there is no more fluid secretion. 

Then you can leave the burn uncovered, but in summer it should always be well protected with sunscreen. 

References. 

Elton Mathias, Pediatric Thermal Burns, and Treatment: A Review of Progress and Future Prospects. Medicines (Basel). 2017 Dec; 4(4): 91

Wasiak J, Cleland H, Campbell F, Spinks A. Dressings for superficial and partial thickness burns. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013


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