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Burns: Brief Version

What is a burn?

There are three types of burns:

  • A first degree burn is reddened skin without blisters. It does not leave a scar.
  • A second degree burn has blisters. It does not leave a scar. Second-degree burns take up to 3 weeks to heal.
  • A third-degree burn is deep and leaves areas of charred skin. During healing it usually needs a skin graft to prevent bad scarring. A skin graft is a patch of healthy skin from another part of the body used to help repair the damaged area.

Usually burns are first or second degree.

What should I do when my child gets a burn?

Immediately put the burned part in cold tap water or pour cold tap water over it for 10 minutes. This will lessen the depth of the burn and relieve pain. Do not put ice on a burn. If the burned area is large, cover it loosely with a clean sheet or plastic wrap.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Burn care. Wash the area gently with warm water once a day. Don't use soap unless the burn is dirty. Don't open any blisters—the outer skin protects the burn from infection. If the burn is second degree, the blister is broken, and the skin is gone, put an antibiotic ointment on it. Cover it with a Band-Aid or gauze. Change the bandage every other day. Use warm water and 1 or 2 gentle wipes with a wet washcloth to remove any dirt and put on more antibiotic ointment. Do not put any butter or burn ointments on the burn. Once the blisters break open, the dead skin needs to be wiped off with a wet washcloth or trimmed off with fine scissors.
  • Pain relief. Give your child acetaminophen every 4 hours or ibuprofen every 6 hours for at least 24 hours. Cover any open burn with ointment. This helps the pain.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • A blister is larger than 2 inches across.
  • The burn is on the face, hands, feet, or genitals.
  • It was an electrical burn.

Call your doctor during office hours if:

  • It starts to look infected.
  • It isn't healed within 10 days.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-08-13
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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