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Monday, June 15, 2009

Basic First Aid for Anxious Parents (Part 2): Burns and scalds

The number one cause of accidental burns in children is sunburn! Sunburn is treated the same way as any other burn.

It is actually quite unusual to see a kid with burns from open flames or fires as parents tend to be very careful to keep children away from such obvious heat sources. Additionally, with all the child safety equipment available nowadays, it is also uncommon for children to acquire burns from electrical sources or from household chemicals like bleach, antifreeze, weedkiller and insecticide. Apart from sunburn, scalds from hot liquids or steam are probably the most common type of accidental burns one would expect to see in children.

Here are a few things parents should do before taking the child to see a physician:

Step One: Remove yourself and child from burn source

Step Two: Take Control (details here) - try and do this at the same time as Step Three.

Step Three: Cool down the burned area

1. Cool the burned area under cool running water for at least 20 minutes. If you do not have running water available, then apply a cold wet cloth to the burned area. Do NOT apply ice or any form of lotion or moisturiser because this will either cause more damage, or increase the risk of infection (the exception to this rule is for mild sunburn - you may use aloe gel or calamine lotion or aftersun cream in this case, as long as you are confident that your child is not allergic to the creams).

2. Completely undress your child - this is because there might be other smaller burns on the body that you may have missed because your attention is automatically drawn to the largest burn. Clothes also tend to 'stick' to burned areas, so if you were slow in removing the clothes and they appear 'stuck', do not rip them off or you will cause more damage (you should cut off the rest of the clothes in this case since they are probably ruined anyway).

3. After running the burns under water, apply a cold wet compress to the burned area whilst you examine it.

4. Resist the temptation to peel flaking skin or burst any blisters that have formed!

Step Four: Observe burn and decide if professional help is required

1. Consider the severity of the burn
- if the burned area is white and painless (i.e. is completely cooked), or black and painless (i.e. charred), or is caused by a chemical or electrical source, you must take the child to the hospital, regardless of how big the burn is or how normal your child appears.

2. Consider the extensiveness of the burn
- if the burned area is the same size or larger than the size of the child's palm, you should probably take the child to the hospital

3. Consider the location of the burn
- if the burn forms blisters over the sensitive areas (such as face, genitals, feet, hands), you should take the child to the hospital

Step Five: Aid healing

1. If you have decided to take the child to the hospital, you must protect the burn site. Cover the burns with normal kitchen clingwrap, using the clingwrap in layers instead of wrapping around like a bandage. Alternatively, you can cover the area with a clean plastic bag.

2. If you are confident to treat the child at home, you can leave the burned area open to air and try to keep it clean and dry. If there are blisters forming, just leave them alone - do not pop them! If the blisters burst, you can cover them in clean gauze (don't use cotton wool or tissue paper or anything that has fluffy bits that can come off).

3. Do not apply sticky plaster or sticky bandaids to the burned skin!

4. Watch for signs of infection - if it looks infected in the coming days, go and see a GP or your local clinic.


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