The Basics on Burns
Tiki torches, citronella candles, grills and fire bowls say summer outdoors, but these evening pleasures are also burn hazards for kids.
Nearly 40,000 children each year are hospitalized with burns. Scalding burns from hot liquids, including hot water and coffee, are the most common burn injury in younger children, but the burning items mentioned above can be dangerous too.
Make sure your children are closely supervised around candles, fires and grills. Remember, grills can remain hot hours after you’ve pulled off the last burger. Make sure you don’t leave matches and lighters where children can find them. Also, don’t let children move logs in a burning fire, or throw on flammables such as straw or dry grass, which flare quickly, and especially not lighter fluid or gasoline.
Assessing the Burn
If your child does get burned, it’s important to assess how serious it is. Burns can be divided into three categories:
- Superficial (formerly known as first degree): reddened skin without blisters
- Partial thickness (formerly known as second degree): reddened skin with blisters. Open blisters more than 2 inches need burn management and physician followup.
- Full thickness (formerly known as third degree): deep skin with white or charred skin. The area loses sensation to pain and touch. This type of burn often needs a skin graft to prevent bad scarring.
The level of care needed to treat a burn depends on many factors, including the location of the burn and the extent of the burn. If you’re not sure if your child’s burn is serious, check with your pediatrician.
How to Treat Burns
Quick action is key in burn treatment. Go with a 10/10 Rule. Within 10 minutes after the burn, put the burned part in cool tap water or pour cool water over it for 10 minutes. The cool water lessens how deeply the burn penetrates and relieves pain. If the burn is under clothing, just run the cool water right over the clothing. For burns on the face, apply a cold, wet washcloth.
For superficial or mild partial thickness burns:
- Don’t use soap unless the area is dirty because soap can slow healing. Use water and gently wipe the area with a wet washcloth to remove any surface debris.
- Don’t open any small closed blisters. The outer skin protects the burn from infection.
- Don’t put ice, butter or any other ointments other than an antibiotic on the burns.
- For minor open burns, apply an antibiotic ointment twice a day and cover with a bandage to decrease pain and the risk of infection.
- Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
For more serious partial thickness and full thickness burns:
- If your child has blisters larger than 2 inches or a full thickness burn with white or charred skin, go to an emergency department.
- Before coming in, cover the burn with a sterile dressing or clean washcloth or towel.
- And again, when in doubt, check with your pediatrician.
After the Burn
Superficial or mild partial thickness burns hurt for about two days and peel like a sunburn in about a week. These burns shouldn’t leave a scar if managed correctly.
If the burn is open, your child will need a tetanus booster if it has been more than five years since his/her last tetanus shot, your child has had less than three tetanus shots is his/her lifetime or if you’re not sure when your child last had a tetanus shot. Your child should get this shot from your pediatrician within three days of the burn.
Call your pediatrician immediately if your child’s burn looks infected. Symptoms include a large red area or streak larger than 2 inches around the burn. A fever may or may not be present. Call your pediatrician within 24 hours if there is some increased redness but no fever.
Pediatric Acute Wound Center (P.A.W.S.) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital
The Pediatric Acute Wound Center (P.A.W.S.) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is the only dedicated pediatric burn program in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The Burn Center uses the latest and most proven techniques available when treating children with burn injuries.