Diseases & Conditions
Burns and scalds
Young children are at high risk of accidents involving burns
Scalds and burns account for about 6% of injuries in young children.
Spilt hot drinks cause most scalds. They are still hot enough to scald a child 15 minutes after being made.
Some burns can be treated with simple first aid, but others will need medical attention.
Types of burn
Superficial burns or scalds affect only the top layer of skin, such as those seen with mild sunburn.
The skin appears red and is mildly painful. The top layer may later peel off but the skin beneath is healthy.
Partial thickness burns cause deeper damage and tend to blister. However, some of the deeper skin is left undamaged.
How to avoid child burns and scolds
Never hold a hot drink and a child at the same time
Encourage the use of a coiled flex or a cordless kettle
Keep small children out of the kitchen whenever possible
Turn cold water on first and always test water temperature with your elbow before letting a child into the bath or shower
Use rear hotplates and turn pan handles away from the front of the cooker
Fit smoke alarms in the house
Keep matches and lighters away from children
if in the sun, protect skin with sunscreen
Source: The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
They are often caused by hot water and are very painful to touch, but usually heal within two to three weeks with minimal scarring.
In some cases the damage will be deeper and there may be no pain and scarring is common. These may require surgical repair and skin grafting.
Full thickness burns, also known as third degree burns, involve the whole thickness of the skin, including the deeper sweat glands.
These can occur when the burning agent is hot oil, for example. The skin will be charred, leathery and pale and there will be no sensation of pain.
Such burns do not heal on their own and will need surgical repair and grafting and can leave substantial scarring.
In extreme cases the damage will go beyond the skin and involve the underlying structures such as subcutaneous fat, muscle and bone. These injuries can be life-threatening.
When to seek help
Minor burns and scalds can be managed using first aid.
Cool the burnt area immediately with cool water (preferably running water) for at least 20 minutes.
Remove any jewellery from around the infected area because there may be swelling.
After cooling, remove clothing from the burnt area, but do not try to pull off clothing that has stuck to the skin as this may cause more damage.
A cold compress such as a tea towel soaked in cold water may be soothing over a burnt area.
Mild burns heal quicker if left to the fresh air.
It is best to see a doctor or nurse if you are unsure about what to do after a burn or the burn is more severe (if it has blistered for example) or complications such as infection develop.
Before going to hospital the burn can be loosely covered with cling film or a clean plastic bag.
Burns that will always require immediate medical attention include electrical burns, full thickness burns, partial thickness burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals and any burn that is larger than the size of the hand of the person affected.