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    First-Degree Burn in Children

    What is a first-degree burn?

    A burn is damage to tissues of the body caused by contact with things such as heat, radiation, or chemicals. A first-degree burn affects only the outer layer of skin (epidermis). 

    What causes a first-degree burn in a child?

    The causes of a first-degree burn can include:

    • Mild sunburn

    • Very hot water

    • Hot object, like a pot or pan

    What are the symptoms of a first-degree burn in a child?

    Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. Symptoms can include skin that is:

    • Red

    • Dry

    • Peeling

    • Painful for 48 to 72 hours and then feels better

    The symptoms of a first-degree burn can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

    How is a first-degree burn diagnosed in a child?

    The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. The diagnosis of a first-degree burn is based on the signs and symptoms, and recent exposure to something that can cause a burn. This may be the sun, something hot, or a chemical.

    How is a first-degree burn treated in a child?

    Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

    A first-degree burn usually heals on its own within a week. Treatment may include:

    • A wet cloth soaked with cold water (cold compress) held to the skin, to ease pain

    • Antibacterial cream, to help prevent infection

    • Other creams, to lessen pain and swelling

    • Over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and swelling

    • Any other treatment advised by your child’s healthcare provider

    First-degree burns are usually not bandaged.

    What are possible complications of a first-degree burn in a child?

    Long-term tissue damage is rare and may be an increase or decrease in the skin color. In some cases, the area may become infected.

    What can I do to prevent a first-degree burn in my child?

    The following are some of ways to prevent burns in children:

    • Keep your child out of the sun. Use sunscreen when your child is old enough, usually at 6 months.

    • Make sure hot water is set below 120° F (48.8° C).

    • Put covers on electrical outlets.

    • Make sure pot and pan handles are turned toward the back of the stove.

    • Be careful with hot drinks.

    • Keep hot appliances in safe places. This includes toasters, irons, and hair-styling tools.

    • Teach children never to play with matches and lighters and keep these items out of reach of children.

    When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

    Call your child's healthcare provider if:

    • Your child has a fever

    • There is fluid leaking from the burn area

    • There is increased swelling or redness of the burn area

    Key points about a first-degree burn in children

    • First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin.

    • They may be caused by the sun, hot water, or hot objects.

    • They are treated by applying cold, like running water or a cold cloth, at first. Creams or lotions may be applied.

    Next steps

    Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

    • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

    • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

    • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

    • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

    • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

    • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

    • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

    • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

    • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

    Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
    Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
    Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
    Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
    © 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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