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Burns and scalds first aid

0-18 years

First aid for burns and scalds starts with checking how bad the burn is. If you’re not sure, get medical help immediately. Treat the burn with cool running water only.

First aid for burns and scalds: key steps

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

Otherwise, take the following first aid steps:

  1. Make sure the area is safe, and that there’s no further risk of injury. Take the child to a safe place if possible.
  2. Take off the child’s clothing immediately, but only if it’s not stuck to the skin. Remove any watches or jewellery the child is wearing, but only if you can do so without causing more pain or injury.
  3. Treat the burn with water only. Cool the burned area under running water for 20 minutes. This will reduce tissue damage and pain. You can usually do this for up to three hours after the burn. Hold the child to provide comfort.
  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 clean, wet cloth.
  5. Raise burned limbs.

When to call an ambulance for a burn

Call an ambulance if the burn is:

  • to the face, airway, hands or genitals
  • 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.

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Last updated or reviewed
21-09-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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