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Our Favourite Ways to Avoid, and Treat, Burns and Scalds

Burns are one of the most common and most serious causes of hospital visits when it comes to little children. Accidents, while preventable, can happen anytime so we've asked First Aid For Life for their best tips in case of an emergency


More than 500 children under five are taken to hospital every week because of burns and scalds. The majority of these burns are due to hot drinks.

Burns are particularly serious for small children and babies. Young children haven't yet developed the reflex to move away from something hot and their skin is up to 15 times thinner than that of an adult. The damage tends to be more severe because they have a smaller body surface area, which means the burn covers a larger proportion of their body. The greater the area covered, the more serious the injury and the impact for the child.

Burns are frightening and the pain and damage caused can be devastating. The physical and psychological damage from a serious childhood burn can last well into adulthood. Knowing what to do can radically reduce the amount of pain and scarring experienced, and in many cases can mean a full recovery.

While learning to treat burns and scalds is important, the most important element is prevention.

The experts at First Aid For Life have a few tips to reduce the risk of your children getting burnt at home.


Hot drinks are an obvious cause. A hot drink is still hot enough to scald a baby or young child 15 minutes after it has been made. Always think carefully before putting hot drinks down and ensure they're out of children's reach.

It can be tempting, but never breastfeed while drinking tea/coffee - any movement could spill the cup and end in disaster. If sitting at the table with a child, while having hot drinks, remove the table cloth so they cannot pull the hot liquid towards them.

Avoid passing hot drinks over people's heads; this often happens when little children are underfoot, but if you step on a piece of Lego, or trip on a scooter, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to save the situation.

Bathroom Safety

Have a bath thermometer and check the water before you let your little one get in. This is more fail safe than testing it with your own hand - remember a child's skin is not as thick as yours.

Always run cold water - before hot - so the bottom of the bath doesn't get overheated.

Never leave a running bath unattended. Ideally have a bath tap/shower attachment with a thermostat installed to prevent the temperature changing mid hair-wash if someone else in the house uses a tap!

Heated towel rails are often low enough for a child to grasp and hot enough to remove their skin. Keep them turned off while your children are little.

Kitchen Safety

Always use the rear hob on your cooker and turn pan handles away from the edge.

Fix sturdy cupboard door locks where you store cleaning chemicals and dishwasher tablets. They are all very strong alkali that can quickly burn. This applies to bleach etc. in the bathroom too.

Use a kettle with a short or curly flex and keep it very clear of little hands.

Keep chairs and stools away from work surfaces and windows to avoid children climbing to otherwise out of reach areas.

If microwaving food or milk, thoroughly shake/mix it before giving it to your child as microwave heating results in hot spots, which can burn.

Other Dangers

Button batteries can burn through the child's oesophagus if swallowed. Check that they are securely screwed into their toys and be careful of batteries contained within greetings cards.

Curling tongs, hair straighteners and irons remain incredibly hot for a long time after they have been unplugged. Always keep them and their flex well out of reach.

Radiators should have covers.

Outdoors, keep children away from barbeques (even when you've finished using them) and be particularly vigilant around bonfires and fireworks.

Treating Burns and scalds

If, after taking extra precautions, and an accident still happens, knowing what to do - and what not to do - can make a big difference to long term recovery.

A burn is measured using the size of your hand, which is roughly equivalent to 1% of your body. Therefore, a burn measuring just the size of a 50p piece or a postage stamp can be very serious for a baby or small child. Burns to the hands, face, feet, genitals, airways, or a burn that extends all the way round a limb, are particularly serious.


  • Remove anything that has stuck to a burn
  • Touch a burn
  • Burst blisters
  • Apply any creams, lotions or fats
  • Apply tight dressings, tapes or use anything fluffy

What you can do:

  1. Extremely carefully, remove loose clothing covering the burn. Do not take clothes off if there is any risk the skin has stuck to them or if the skin has blistered.
  2. Put the affected area under cool running water for at least 10 minutes (ideally longer). Remember you are cooling the burn and not the casualty, so try and keep the water running over just the burnt area.
  3. Keep the rest of the casualty as warm and dry as possible and watch for any signs of shock.
  4. Phone an ambulance, particularly if a large area is affected, or if the skin is broken or blistered. Keep the area under the water while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.

Always get burns assessed by a medical professional.

Dressing a burn

A burn shouldn't be dressed until it has been cooled for at least 15 minutes. Covering a burn reduces the risk of infection and reduces pain by covering exposed nerve endings.

If a child is burnt and the burn is bad enough that you need to dress it, phone an ambulance and continue to cool the burn under running water. The paramedics will assess and dress it.

For adults, cling film is a good temporary dressing. Discard the first couple of turns of cling film and place an inner piece loosely over the burn. Plastic bags and sterile non-fluffy dressings are also useful as dressings.

It is highly recommended that you attend a practical or online first aid course to learn how to help in a medical emergency.

First Aid for Life and onlinefirstaid.com provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. The best way to be prepared for action in an emergency is to attend a practical first aid course.

For more information please visit:  www.firstaidforlife.org.uk or contact [email protected]  0208 675 4036

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