First aid for burns and scalds: key steps

If the burn is severe or if the burn is to the child’s airway, call an ambulance – phone 000.

If you’re not sure how severe a burn is, contact a doctor, hospital or medical centre immediately.

Then take the following first aid steps:

  1. Make sure the area is safe, and there’s no further risk of injury. Take the child to a safe place if possible.
  2. Take off clothing or jewellery around the burn, but only if it’s not stuck to the skin and only if you can do so without causing more pain or injury. You might have to cut clothes to remove them.
  3. As soon as possible, hold the burned area under cool running water for a total of 20 minutes. This will reduce tissue damage and pain. You don’t have to cool the burn for 20 minutes all at once. If your child gets upset or cold, treat the burn for a few minutes and then take a break before treating the burn again. You can cool the burn like this for up to three hours.
  4. When you’ve finished the water treatment or while you’re taking the child to see a doctor, cover the burn with a loose, light, non-sticky dressing like plastic wrap or a plastic ziplock bag.
  5. Raise burned limbs.

When to call an ambulance for a burn

Call an ambulance if:

  • the burn is to the face, hands or genitals
  • the burn is to the airway – signs of an airway burn include coughing, wheezing or soot around the mouth or nostrils
  • the burn is larger than the size of the child’s hand.

When to get medical help for a burn

Go to a doctor, hospital or medical centre if:

  • the burn or scald is the size of a 20-cent piece or larger
  • the burn is deep, even if the child doesn’t feel any pain
  • the burn looks raw, angry or blistered
  • the pain persists or is severe
  • you’re not sure how bad the burn is.
Check out our illustrated guide to first aid for burns and scalds. You could print it out and stick it up somewhere easy to see.

What not to do with burns

  • Don’t peel off any clothing that’s stuck to the burn.
  • Don’t break any blisters.
  • Don’t apply ice, iced water, lotions, moisturisers, oil, ointments, butter or flour, creams or powders to the burn. This will make the damage worse.
  • If the burn is large, don’t cool it for longer than 20 minutes. This is because hypothermia can happen quickly in children.