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Children's Symptoms > Skin - Localized Symptoms > Burns


  • A burn is a heat (thermal), chemical or electrical injury to the skin

Severity of Burns:

  • 1st degree - Reddened skin without blisters
  • 2nd degree - Reddened skin with blisters (Heals from the bottom up, not from the edges. Takes 2 to 3 weeks.) Small closed blisters contain protective chemicals, serve as a dressing and reduce pain.
  • 3rd degree - Deep burns with white or charred skin. Skin sensation is absent. Usually needs a skin graft to prevent bad scarring if it is larger than a quarter (1 inch) in size. (Heals from the edges)

See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If

First Aid Advice For Burns From Heat

  • Immediately (don't take time to remove clothing) put the burned part in cold tap water or pour cold water over it for 10 minutes.
  • For burns on the face, apply a cold wet washcloth. (Reason: lessen the depth of the burn and relieve pain).

First Aid Advice For Burns From Chemicals

  • Remove any contaminated clothing.
  • Flush the chemical off the skin with warm water for 10 minutes. For large areas, use a shower.


Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If

  • For all thermal or chemical burns, see FIRST AID
  • Large 2nd or 3rd degree burn
  • Difficulty breathing with burn to the face
  • Difficult to awaken or acting confused

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • For all new thermal or chemical burns, see FIRST AID
  • You think your child has a serious burn
  • Blister is present (EXCEPTION: small closed blister less than ½ inch size)
  • Eye or eyelid burn
  • Burn completely circles an arm or leg
  • Center of the burn is white or charred
  • Electrical current burn
  • Explosion or gun powder caused the burn
  • Acid or alkali burn
  • Chemical burn that causes a blister
  • House fire burn
  • Severe pain persists over 2 hours after pain medicine
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
  • Burn looks infected

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Burn isn’t healed after 10 days

Parent Care at Home If

  • Minor heat or chemical burn and you don't think your child needs to be seen


  1. Pain Medicine: For pain, apply cold compresses and give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for a few days.
  2. Cleansing: Wash the area gently with warm water. Avoid soap unless the burn is dirty. (Reason: Soaps can slow healing).
  3. Closed Blisters: Don't open any small closed blisters - the outer skin protects the burn from infection.
  4. Antibiotic Ointment:
    • For any broken blisters, apply an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin (no prescription needed).
    • Then cover it with a Band-Aid. Change the dressing every other day.
    • Use warm water and 1 or 2 gentle wipes with a wet washcloth to remove any surface debris.
  5. Expected Course: It will probably hurt for 2 days and peel like a sunburn in about a week. Fortunately, first- and second-degree burns don't leave scars.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe pain persists over 2 hours after pain medicine given
    • Burn starts to look infected (pus, red streaks, increased tenderness)
    • Burn isn't healed after 10 days
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 8/1/2011

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Additional Resources:

 How to use the Adult Health Topics pages
 When to call the doctor
 Reviewers of Clinical Content

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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