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First aid for burns and scalds

If your baby or child has a burn or scald, start by checking how bad the injury is. Burns and scalds above the neck could affect breathing or vision.

A scald is a burn caused by hot liquid or steam. You can treat scalds in the same way as burns.

If the burn or scald is above the neck, call 999 or 112 for an ambulance immediately.

If other areas are affected, take your child to hospital immediately unless the burn or scald is very minor.

Burns can be very painful for your baby or child. They can cause blisters and burnt, black or red skin.

How to treat

Give your child basic first aid if the burn is minor or while you wait for further medical attention:

1. Put the injured area under cool water for 20 minutes

Cool the burn or scald immediately. Run cool water over it for around 20 minutes. This helps with pain and can reduce the risk of scarring and need for surgery.

Only put cool water on the burnt skin. Try to keep your child warm by using layers of clothing or a blanket. This is to prevent hypothermia. This is where their body temperature drops to less than 35 degrees Celsius. This is more likely to happen if the burn is large and you are cooling a large area of skin.

Only use burn gels or hydrogels if there is no cool running water nearby. Always apply cool water after using burn gels or hydrogels. A hydrogel is a gel-like dressing for burns.

If you can't apply cool water immediately, do it as soon as possible after the injury.

2. Remove clothing and accessories

  • Remove any nappies, clothing and jewellery near the injury, unless they are stuck to the skin.
  • If a piece of clothing is stuck to skin do not remove it, cut around it.

3. Do not put anything on the injury

Don't put any of the following on the burn or scald:

  • ice
  • fats
  • creams
  • ointments
  • lotions
  • sprays
  • adhesive (sticky) dressings or plasters

4. Cover the burn loosely with non-fluffy cloth or cling film

  • Cover the injury loosely if it is likely to rub against objects.
  • Use a clean dry non-fluffy cloth or cling film to loosely cover it - a clean plastic bag may be used if the injury is on the hand.
  • Don't wrap the burnt area too tight. This is because swelling may lead to further injury.
  • Do not pop any blisters. Blisters prevent skin infection.

Getting medical attention

When to call an ambulance

Call 112 or 999 for an ambulance if:

  • the burn or scald is above the neck
  • your child has difficulty breathing
  • your child is unresponsive

Do not delay in an emergency - dial 112 or 999 immediately.

While waiting for an ambulance, give your child first aid.

When to go to the emergency department

Go to your nearest emergency department if:

  • a baby or small child has been burned or scalded
  • the burn area is larger than a €2 coin
  • the burn is on your child's face, hands or genitalia
  • any burns appear white or chalky
  • there is evidence of an inhalation injury - this may include soot or smoke residue around the nose or mouth
  • there are signs your child is in shock, such as cold, clammy skin, sweating, fast and shallow breathing, weakness or dizziness
  • any chemical or electrical burns, even if they are small

When to go to your GP

You should go to your GP if:

  • you need advice about minor burns or scalds - minor burns are smaller than a €2 coin
  • the area around a healing burn becomes red, or pus starts to come out of it - this could be a sign of infection

Related topic

Emergency services and when to get help

Chemical burns

Some household cleaning products can cause burn injuries. This is because of the chemicals in them.

Chemical burns can be very damaging. They need immediate medical attention at a hospital emergency department (ED).

Call the poisons information line on 01 809 2166 if you think your child has been poisoned. The line is open every day from 8am to 10pm.

Try to find out what caused the burn. If you can, you can tell the healthcare professional treating your child.

If you think your child has had a chemical burn:

  • remove any clothing the chemical has spilled on
  • brush the chemical off their skin, if the chemical is dry
  • use running water to remove any traces of the chemical from the burnt area

Prevent burns and scalds

Children can suffer deep burns and scalds very quickly. Their skin is thinner than an adult’s.

Serious injuries often need prolonged treatment and skin grafting. The lasting effects of burns and scalds - both physical and emotional - can be difficult to overcome.

You can prevent many burn and scald injuries if you know what hazards to look out for.

These include:

  • hot liquids, such as baths, hot drinks and heated bottles
  • cooking and hot food
  • electrical equipment, including hair straighteners
  • flames
  • chemicals

Help prevent burns and scalds to your child by:

  • keeping your child away from risks
  • supervising your child at all times
  • taking precautions during everyday activities like baths and meals

Related Content

Page last reviewed: 28/03/2019
Next review due: 28/03/2022