Burns and scalds
Burns and scalds are a leading cause of injury to young children, with toddlers most at risk because of their increased mobility.
There are six main types of burn:
- scalds (caused by hot liquids, foods or steam)
- contact with hot objects (for example heaters) or very cold objects (for example dry ice)
Scalds are the main cause of burns in children, often by hot foods and drinks they have pulled down from surfaces. This can result in serious burns to the face, neck, chest and shoulders.
All burns are serious. Even small burns, depending on where they affect the body, can have long-term consequences for your child.
Burns can be very painful and may cause:
- red or peeling skin
- white or charred skin
The amount of pain your child experiences is not always related to how serious the burn is. Even a very serious burn may be relatively painless.
Check if your child has any red symptoms:
- All chemical and electrical burns.
- Large or deep burns – any bigger than the injured person’s hand.
- Burns with blistering.
- Burns of any size that cause white or charred skin.
- Burns on the face, neck, chest, hands, feet, any joints or genitals.
- Burns that might be infected, for example increased swelling, redness, pain or discharge.
- Fever, a red rash all over their body or diarrhoea after a burn.
Any infant or child that has breathed in smoke or fumes and has:
- a cough
- noisy / wheezy breathing (stridor)
- difficulty breathing (using tummy muscles to breathe)
- sore throat (hoarseness)
- facial burns, including black sputum (saliva), hoarseness, singed nasal hairs, eyelashes or eyebrows
Actions to take if your child has any red symptoms
- Your child may require emergency treatment.
- You should call 999 or take them to your NEAREST Emergency Department where they can be assessed.
If the burn is minor and has not caused the skin to blister or break after first aid treatment (see below) – and your child seems settled – there is no need to see a doctor.
If no red symptoms are present:
- your child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury
- you can get general advice on the NI Direct website or from your local pharmacy
If your child develops any of the red symptoms above, follow the advice in that section.
How you can help manage your child’s burn or scald at home
First aid treatment is the same for all burns:
- Remove your child from the heat source.
- Remove clothing or jewellery that is near the burnt area of skin, including babies’ nappies, but DO NOT remove anything that is stuck to the skin. You may have to cut clothing to remove it.
- Cool the burn with cool or lukewarm water for 20 minutes. DO NOT use ice, iced water, or any creams or greasy substances like butter.
- Keep your child warm by using a blanket (DO NOT rub the blanket against the burn) and target the burn with the cool water.
- After cooling the burn, it can be covered with layers of cling film (DO NOT apply to the face or chemical burns). DO NOT wrap the cling film around the affected area. You should place layers of cling film on top of the burn.
- Use pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- Raise / lift the affected area if possible as this will help reduce swelling.
- In the case of a chemical burn, brush it off if it’s a dry agent. Wash the area with water.
This video was produced ahead of Halloween, which is an especially risky time of year for burns. It has some useful information on first aid for burns and scalds:
- If it is non-urgent, speak to your local pharmacist or health visitor.
- Alternatively, you can contact your GP practice and a qualified member of the clinical team will check whether your child needs to be seen urgently. Out of hours GP details are available here.
- You should only call 999 or go your nearest Emergency Department in critical or life-threatening situations.
- See our section: How does the Children’s Emergency Department Work?