Little Kids

Burn first aid

Prevent curious preschoolers from getting serious burns, and learn how to treat tender skin should accidents happen

By Teresa Pitman
Burn first aid


All it took was a few moments. I was ironing in the family room while three-year-old Jeremy played on the floor with his toys.

When I noticed some threads dangling on one of the shirts I was pressing, I went to fetch some scissors. In the time it took me to walk to the room next door, open the drawer and return with the scissors, Jeremy had climbed up on a chair and reached for the iron. He ended up with a painful burn on the side of his hand.

When I saw Jeremy’s burned hand, I panicked. How could I have let this happen? And what do I do now? Apply ointment, ice or, my mother’s favourite, butter? Cover it with a bandage or leave it open to the air?

“Burns are the second most common cause of injury in preschoolers,” says Claude Cyr, a paediatrician who teaches at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. “And that’s based on children who are brought to the doctor, so it’s really just the tip of the iceberg, since most burns are treated at home.” So I’m far from the only parent whose preschooler grabbed something hot during the few minutes they weren’t paying attention.

To treat a burn properly, you need to know what kind of burn it is:

First degree:
Appearance Red, like a bad sunburn, but without any blisters. It is the most commonly seen and, fortunately, the least serious.

Treatment “Cool the burned area by putting it under cold running water,” says Cyr. “Don’t apply ice, which can delay the healing, and don’t apply ointment or rub the burned area.” And no butter (sorry, Mom). After the burn has cooled, cover it with a dry bandage or clean cloth.

Second degree:
Appearance Red with one or several blisters.

Treatment “The first step is not to break the blisters,” according to Cyr. “Again, cool the burn under cold running water.” If the burned area is on the child’s face, genitals or hands, or larger than a dime, take the child to a doctor or emergency room. These burns should also be covered with dry bandages or clean cloths once the skin is cooled. Be careful not to break any of the blisters in the process.

Third and fourth degree:
Appearance Skin looks white and feels numb. Fourth-degree burns go through layers of skin.

Treatment Get prompt medical attention. “Remove any jewellery that might still be hot, and any burned clothing that isn’t stuck to the child’s skin,” says Cyr. “And call 911 for help.”


Appearance These burns can range from first to fourth degree. “Electrical burns most often happen when young children bite through an electrical cord,” says Cyr.

Treatment Take your child to the hospital. “Any child who has had an electrical burn should be checked by a doctor right away. There are rare but serious complications that may not show up immediately.”

Preventing burns

“Prevention is really the key,” says paediatrician Claude Cyr of the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. “Always keep in mind that preschoolers are curious and won’t always remember the rules.”

His tips:

• Be aware of where your child is if you have to carry hot food.

• Keep lighters and matches out of reach and use childproof ones.

• Never carry a child when you are holding a hot liquid.

• Use rear burners if possible and turn pot handles to the centre of the stove. Make sure there are no chairs or stools close by that children can climb on.

• Avoid having large pots of hot food on the table, especially if there is a tablecloth your child might pull. It’s safer to serve the food on plates and bring them to the table.

• Keep electrical cords tucked behind furniture and use safety plugs in unused outlets.

• Make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your house. Cyr suggests testing them monthly, and having your child practise running to the front door when he hears the alarm.

This article was originally published on Mar 08, 2010

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