When it comes to burns, infants and small children are at a much greater risk because of their small body size and the percentage of body surface burned, which dictates the severity of the injury. Although we still refer to depth of burn (first-, second-, and third-degree), the percentage remains key. A 30 percent or greater body surface burn at a second- or third-degree depth is considered critical, though most children will survive such a burn if properly treated.
The primary first aid concern is to stop the burning once the injury occurs. If a child is burned, immediately rinse the area with cold water for at least 30 to 60 seconds. This will reduce the temperature of the skin and optimally minimize the depth and size of the burn. Apply lightweight gauze over the burn and continue to trickle on small amounts of cool water until the child receives medical attention.
If the burn is sizeable, call 911, as they will begin treatment at the home and continue it en route to the ED. Burns to the face, hands, genital area, or feet are considered higher risk burns and often require hospitalization.
Avoid using ice, ointments, or creams for burns. You should not give the child anything by mouth for pain as it will often be vomited and will usually not help extreme pain from burns.
It is safe to say that accidents will happen—and we owe it to our loved ones to have the basic skills and understanding of how to prevent and respond to accidents. The principles outlined in this article should serve as an adjunct to some type of formal preparation on the part of parents and care providers.
What can parents do? Take a CPR and first-aid course offered in your community. These courses should be tailored to the background and capability of the student. It's also critical that other caregivers—whether grandparents, nannies, daycare personnel, or preschool teachers—have also completed courses in first-aid and CPR, and know how to handle emergencies. We place a tremendous reliance on these people to also make health decisions for our children in our absence, and the choices you make as parents can make a direct difference in outcomes.
Enjoy your children and be safe!