Health Encyclopedia

Burns in Children

The latest data available indicate the following:

  • Unintentional injury is a leading cause of death among children under age 14.

  • Leading causes of accidental injury at home are burns, drowning, suffocation, choking, poisonings, falls, and firearms.

  • Burns and fires are the fifth most common cause of accidental death in children and adults, and account for an estimated 3,500 adult and child deaths per year.

  • Nearly 75 percent of all scalding burns in children are preventable.

  • Toddlers and children are more often burned by a scalding or flames.

  • The majority of children ages 4 and under who are hospitalized for burn-related injuries suffer from scald burn (65 percent) or contact burns (20 percent).

  • Hot tap water burns cause more deaths and hospitalizations than burns from any other hot liquids.

  • During the last 30 years, burn injuries have decreased for the following reasons:

    • Increased use of smoke detectors.

    • The flammability of consumer products, such as toys and pajamas, is federally regulated.

    • The US government monitors safety in the workplace.

    • A greater national emphasis is placed on burn injury prevention and fire safety.

    • A decrease in smoking helps prevent burn injuries.

    • New water heaters in homes and in public areas are now preset at lower temperatures to reduce scald injuries.

    • There are fewer open fires.

Age

Most Common Injury Type

Risk Factors

< 5 Years

Flame

Playing with matches, cigarette lighters, fires in fireplaces, barbecue pits, and trash fires.

 

Scald

Kitchen injury from tipping scalding liquids.

Bathtub scalds often associated with lack of supervision or child abuse. Greatest number of pediatric burn patients are infants and toddlers younger than 3 years of age burned by scalding liquids.

5 to 10 Years

Flame

Male children are at increased risk, often due to fire play and risk-taking behaviors.

 

Scald

Female children are at increased risk, with most burns occurring in the kitchen or bathroom.

Adolescent

Flame

Injury associated with male peer-group activities involving gasoline or other flammable products, such as fireworks.

 

Electrical

Occurs most often in male adolescents involved in dare-type behaviors, such as climbing utility poles or antennae. In rural areas, burns may be caused by moving irrigation pipes that touch an electrical source.

Heat and cold injuries

Children are much more vulnerable to changes in the temperature of the environment because they produce and lose heat faster than adults. Because they are so often busy playing and having fun, children tend to pay less attention to when they are becoming too hot or too cold until problems occur. It is important for you to protect your child from the sun and from heat and cold exposures that may cause them illness or injury. Knowing what to do in case a burn or thermal injury occurs can help prevent a medical emergency.

Caring for a heat-induced or thermal burn

  • Remove the child from the heat source.

  • Cool the affected area with cold water or cold compresses until the pain is reduced or alleviated.

  • If a blister has formed, do not break it.

  • Protect the burn with a dry, sterile, gauze bandage or with a clean bed sheet or cloth.

  • If your child's clothing is stuck to the burned area, do not attempt to remove it. Instead, cut around the clothing, leaving the burn intact.

  • Do not apply any ointments, oils, or sprays to the burned area.

  • If your child has burns on the hand, foot, face, eyes, or groin, or those that cover a large area, seek medical attention or dial 911 for emergency medical attention.

Caring for an electrical burn

  • Call or send someone to call 911 for emergency medical assistance. Significant electrical injuries will need medical care.

  • Unplug the appliance or device that has caused the injury or turn off the electrical current.

  • If the child is in contact with the electrical current, do not touch them until you turn off the source or the circuit breaker.

  • Determine that the child is still breathing. If the child is not breathing, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

  • Cover the burned area with a sterile gauze bandage or clean bed sheet.

  • Maintain your child's normal body temperature, and take the child to an emergency center.

  • Do not give your child anything to eat or drink.

  • Place the child on his/her back, unless a neck or back injury is suspected.

  • If the child has vomited or has a serious injury to the face or mouth area, you may place the child on his/her side.

  • Keep your child warm with blankets or extra clothing, but do not use a heat source to warm them.

  • Elevate your child's feet and legs, using a prop or pillow.