First aid for burns and scalds: key steps
Call an ambulance by phoning 000 if a burn is severe, large or to the child’s face, hands, genitals or airway.
Go to your GP or your local hospital if you’re not sure how severe a burn is.
Then take the following first aid steps:
- Make sure the area is safe, and there’s no further risk of injury. Take the child to a safe place if possible.
- Take off any clothing (including nappies) 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.
- 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.
- 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 clear plastic bag.
- Raise burned limbs.
- Cover your child with a blanket and keep them warm. This helps prevent hypothermia.
The key is to cool the burn for 20 minutes in total. You can cool the burn for a few minutes at a time for up to 3 hours after the burn happens. But don’t delay getting medical help if you think the burn is severe, or your child is upset or cold and you can’t cool the burn.
When to call an ambulance for a burn or scald
Call an ambulance if the burn or scald is:
- on the face, hands or genitals
- in the airway – that is, in the child’s nose, mouth or throat
- larger than the size of the child’s forearm.
Signs of an airway burn include coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing or soot around the mouth or nostrils.
When to get medical help for a burn or scald
Go to your GP or a hospital emergency department if the burn or scald:
- is the size of a 20-cent piece or larger
- is deep and looks white, even if the child doesn’t feel any pain
- looks raw, angry or blistered
- is causing severe pain or pain that won’t go away with pain relief medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Also get medical help if 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 display it 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.
This information is not a substitute for first aid training. It’s a very good idea for you or anyone caring for your child to do a first aid course.