Children’s Ailments A-z: Burns

Your A-Z guide on how to care for your child’s ailments.


Burns are injuries of the skin caused by excessive heat, acids and alkalis or electricity. Depth, extent and location of the burn are important. Superficial burns (”first-degree”) cause reddening of the skin and pain; they may blister after one or two days. Sunburn is a good example of a first-degree burn. “Second-degree” burns redden and blister immediately. “Third-degree” burns are deepest and involve the death of a full depth of skin. The skin blisters or appear scorched (blackened) or dead-white. The actual depth of the burn, except mild “first-degree” and severe “third-degree” conditions, cannot be reliably determined until healing starts.

Skin is a vital organ. If more than 10 percent of the skin area has suffered “second- or third-degree” burns, a serious emergency exists. If an area larger than the size of a child’s palm receives a “second-degree” burn or any size of a “third-degree” burn, consult your doctor. Burns of the fingers, joints and face are threatening because of danger of scarring and deformity.


Redness, blistering or scorching of the skin constitutes a burn. The problem is in deciding the degree and extent of the burn. Burns with no blistering or charring can be described as “first-degree”.

Home Treatment

Immediately apply cold water to the burn. If the burn is a “first-degree” type, continue until the pain abates or up to one-half hour. If the burn is serious, cover it with a clean, cold, wet towel; keep your child warm and see your doctor at once. Do not apply ointments or other treatment to burns that will need a doctor’s care.


Doctor’s Treatment

Your doctor will usually hospitalize your child for “third-degree” burns, “second-degree” burns that cover more than 10 percent of the skin and for “second-degree” burns of the face, fingers or joints.

Hospital treatment involves proper dressing, close attention to need for intravenous fluids, attention to kidney and stomach complications and sometimes antibiotics and plastic surgery.